By by Payton Diehl, 9th Battalion Junior Reserve Officer Training CorpsDecember 2, 2019
ANSBACH, Germany (November 29, 2019) -- Twenty-three cadets of the Ansbach 9th Battalion Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) visited Ypres, Belgium from Nov. 8-11 to study WWI. During the trip, they visited several historic sites reflecting the landscape were Soldiers fought. They also heard first-hand stories from people whose relatives experienced the war.
The battalion visited the In Flanders Fields Museum and learned about the weapons and uniforms that were used in WWI, and how propaganda encouraged people to risk their lives.
"Being able to see the objects in person causes a deeper meaning and understanding of the tragedy that really occurred," said Cadet Nathan Griffin.
Cadets also attended a multicultural tour to visit several historic landmarks and cemeteries. They learned about the tunneling tactics used and saw how the fighting caused enormous craters like the Caterpillar. This gave them an idea of how deadly and powerful the battles were, as well as a deeper understanding of the various physical struggles that both sides of the war faced.
"I learned how far "No Man's Land" actually was, which wasn't very far," said Cadet Alina Morecraft. "The conditions were terrible."
Visiting cemeteries and seeing where hundreds of fallen Soldiers are buried changed many of the cadets' perspectives on the war. It showed how many men were willing to sacrifice themselves in order to end something so dangerous and also how devastated many people must have been to learn that their fathers, sons, and loved ones were not going to come home.
At one of the cemeteries, the battalion met a British man who was able to tell them about some of his relatives that were buried there. Seeing the different nationalities organized in the cemeteries also taught them how the whole world was affected by the war.
"The most meaningful thing for me is going to the cemetery and remembering all the Soldiers and how many loved ones that we've lost, said cadet Jasmine Rivera. "We've lost so many loved ones in the military and that's what will stick with me forever."
Cadet Collin Robertson was asked to find a buried Soldier to research, one who "spoke to him".
"I settled on a man resting beside an Unknown Soldier. In that moment I realized the absurdity of fate. Why can one man be remembered and another not? Why do a man's awards matter after he passed? In the end, they're all the same," he said.
After the tour, the battalion attended The Great War Remembered Concert held in St. Martin's Cathedral in Ypres. The concert featured music from an orchestra, opera singer and several bagpipers. First hand stories from people of different ethnicities were also presented and strengthened the cadets' knowledge of individual contributions to the war.
"The most meaningful part of the trip was the concert," said Morecraft. "The music was so beautifully composed but it was hearing the stories passed down from great-great grandfathers or grandmothers (so first hand stories) reminded me of my family's story."
The following day, cadets went to Pond Farm, a farm owned by a family that has collected WW1 artifacts found on their land.
"I learned that Belgian farmers still have to deal with enormous amounts of shells that haven't exploded," said Cadet Matthew Pregana.
The cadets were also given the pleasure of riding in a tank designed just like the ones from WW1. "The most meaningful thing was the tank ride because it showed the technology back then," said Cadet Josiah Quinland.
Later that day, cadets visited the Talbot House Museum to see what Soldiers did in their free time during the war. They learned how important it was for the Soldiers to "escape" the fighting and relax. They also stopped by the death cells and execution post in Popperinge, where Soldiers were imprisoned and executed if they betrayed the army and their allies. Finally they went to the John McCrae site, an advanced dressing station, to see where soldiers were treated in the midst of fighting and where the famous poem, "In Flanders Fields," was written.
The evening of November 10, the battalion went to the Menin Gate to attend a wreath laying ceremony to celebrate the missing fallen Soldiers. Cadets Cooper Robertson and Rivera, along with Maj. (Ret.) Madonna Roberts, laid a wreath to honor the Canadian 13th Infantry Battalion in remembrance of Robert's great-uncle Charles Norman Stewart.
The trip ended with a Veterans Day ceremony at the Flanders American Cemetery. Cadets were given a tour of the cemetery to learn about the Soldiers buried there and the price they paid even moments before the war ended.
"The most meaningful thing to me was seeing the graves and seeing all the men side by side who died on the same day, and realizing how terrible war is," said Robertson.
During the ceremony, cadets Victoria Young and Jeremiah Tran laid a wreath from the American Legion Post 1982. Cadets Caison Duplessie and Morecraft laid a wreath honoring one of the seven Soldiers who lost their lives November 11, 1918, the last day of the war.
"Learning about the brutality Soldiers faced from the weather, the terrain, the combat, and even from their own friends and allies if they violated or abandoned their duties was staggering and really eye-opening," said Duplessie.
Ansbach 9th Battalion JROTC would like to thank the Ansbach Spouses and Civilians Club, American Legion Post 1982, and USAG Ansbach community members for supporting the trip that allowed them a once-in-a-lifetime experience.