For Franklin woman, D-Day trip brings better understanding of war terrors
Alexis Daubner can now appreciate her great-grandfather more
Franklin — College student Alexis Daubner recently returned from an overseas academic trip that vividly drew a personal family portrait of war.
Visiting an array of World War II sites near the 70th anniversary of D-Day, Daubner took with her the story of Clarence Campbell, her great-grandfather who parachuted into battle as part of the United States 101st Airborne Division. Her experience rounded out a handed-down family history of a man who returned to his Ohio home very much a changed person.
Shot in the conflict and sent to recover in a French hospital, Campbell came back to the U.S. with a darker personality, even cruel, sometimes seeing his own family members as enemies.
"It really made me gain a bit of an understanding," Daubner said. "It was about seeing yourself shot at and other people shot in war obviously made him change."
Daubner, who lives in Franklin with her grandparents, knew much about her great-grandfather from her grandmother, Stella Mann.
"I learned a lot about him from my grandmother, so this trip was very meaningful to me," Daubner said. "I was able to bring back information to my grandparents and share what I saw.
Stella Mann said she anticipated her granddaughter's return.
"I very much wanted to hear what she saw and heard, what her emotions were," Mann said. "I could not be with her, but in a way I was. When I went through the World War II Museum in Washington, D.C., I believe my father was with me."
Daubner also felt the influence of her great-grandfather.
"If I could talk to him today," she said, "I would reach out a hand of sympathy and understanding and tell him how I appreciate what he did and that the world appreciates his sacrifice."
Sacrifice, pride and a range of emotions were all part of visiting some 15 historical sites connected to the war as part of a trip arranged by Carthage College, where Daubner is entering her junior year, and Ashland University in Ohio, which collaborated with Carthage to arrange the trip for more than 30 students and non-students.
Daubner said the most memorable sites for her were the Ranger Memorial in Pointe Du Hoc, France, where she said the scars of war were evident in the untouched signs of bullets and mortar shells and the Dachau concentration camp.
"Each had its own impact," Daubner said. "The memorial was one of the only sites that was not changed for tourism, and I guess the best way to describe Dachau is that I was awestruck at how human beings could be so cruel to one another."
Daubner noted the Airborne Museum featured a simulation of what it felt like to parachute into battle with the enemy shooting, a further understanding of what her grandfather experienced.
The June 7-19 tour also included England, Germany and Brussels. It featured stops at the Royal Air Force Museum, Churchill Museum/Cabinet War Room, Battle of Britain Operations Room, Tank Museum, Saint Mere-Eglise/Airborne Museum, German and American cemeteries, a Normandy Beach memorial, and a D-Day landings museum as well as other memorials including the Atlantic Wall Museum depicting the 52-foot concrete tower that was an important German fortress.
The academic trip was arranged in part by Eric Pullin, associate professor of history at Carthage College. While it included four hours of credit, Pullin said an important purpose from his standpoint included giving students a greater understanding of World War II's significance.
"I hope they understand that this was the pivotal event of the 20th century and the world is the way it is today because of how World War II played out," Pullin said. "I want them to know the human sacrifice, that this is not just a black-and-white movie."
Alexis Daubner and Stella Mann recounted how Clarence Campbell visited his own grandmother and had dinner with her during the war in Germany.
"There were a lot of Americans with families there and in other parts of Europe," Mann said. "They were there killing cousins and other family members. That was another part of the war."
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