Ask Cadet Nick Masella, a junior from Merrimack, New Hampshire, nearly anything about the Allied landing on Omaha Beach during D-Day. He’ll have an answer.
Masella, who’s majoring in political science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences with a minor in leadership from the corps’ Rice Center for Leader Development, is one of 12 cadets studying the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II as part of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets’ Global Scholars Program.
Now in its second year, the study abroad program includes a three-credit hour seminar during the spring semester followed by a week-long trip to France in May. This world-class leader-development opportunity is funded almost entirely by the corps. Alumni generosity helps pay for lodging, flights, and ground transportation for the group.
In the classroom, cadets take turns leading the class, sharing their research and applying the history lessons to today’s world events. In May, they will lead similar discussions on leadership and decision-making in Normandy, France, while standing at the very spots they’ve studied.
“I have always been awed by the bravery of the men who served in World War II,” Masella said. “I think what interested me the most was that I will be able to learn, more in depth, about the operations at Normandy and bring these military lessons and tactics to life in the civilian sector after school. I will also be able to bring to life and pass on the stories of a generation that is quickly fading into depths of history.”
The end goal is applied history — using the lessons of Normandy in wider discussions about current world leadership and national security challenges, said Lt. Col. Don Russell, deputy commandant for the corps’ Citizen-Leader Track, who oversees the Global Scholars Program.
Cadets study the different perspectives and challenges faced by leaders — from the president to the platoon leader — during D-Day and how they can use those lessons as they start their own careers, both in the military and in the public and private sectors.
“I'm really interested in studying some of the strategic decisions and leadership traits that led to the successful invasion of France. Ideally, I'd like to be able to apply what I learn to my leadership style both in corps and upon graduation,” said Cadet Brooke Edwards, a junior from Bristow, Virginia, majoring in finance in the Pamplin College of Business with a minor in leadership.
Her area of expertise is the German defenses on Omaha Beach, specifically WN60, the easternmost fortified position. Perched on a steep bluff, German soldiers could see the whole beach and rain artillery, mortar, and heavy machine gun fire on U.S. and Allied forces.
Virginia Tech alumnus 1st Lt. Jimmie Monteith died at WN60. On June 6, 1944, Monteith was a section leader in L Company, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, in the first wave of the invasion on Omaha Beach.
He led an assault off the beach, died from enemy fire, and posthumously received the Medal of Honor. He is one of seven alumni recipients of the nation’s highest honor.