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Kohler student and teacher chosen to tell a hero’s tale in Normandy, France

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Cecelia Zielke, a Kohler High School junior, has been accepted into the prestigious Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom® Albert H. Small Student & Teacher Institute.

Zielke, along with Kohler teacher Matthew Bayens, will embark on a year-long course of study that concludes with a journey to Normandy, France to honor a WWII Silent Hero who died during or after the Normandy Invasion. Courses, materials, and international travel are paid for by the generosity of Mr. Albert H. Small. Fewer than 10% of applicants for this program are accepted.

Zielke and Bayens join 14 other student and teacher teams from around the country on this educational journey. Teams select one Silent Hero from their hometown or state, who is then memorialized at the Normandy American Cemetery. Bayens and Zielke then conduct in-depth historical research on the life of this Silent Hero. Through primary sources such as war records, draft cards, or interviews with descendants, they will learn about conducting historical research while telling the tale of this Silent Hero.

“In the next couple of weeks, I will be selecting a Silent Hero; a soldier from Wisconsin who fought and died in the Normandy Invasion and is now memorialized at the Normandy American Cemetery,” explained Zielke. “I will begin the selection process by researching the back stories of soldiers on a list that National History Day has provided to me. I hope to find someone who was close to home, in location and situation. After I select our Silent Hero, myself and Mr. Bayens will engage in research of this individual through the Wisconsin Veterans Museum and Wisconsin Historical Society this spring.”

In June 2018, teams will travel to Washington, D.C. to finish their research with help from historians and college professors. While in D.C. they will tour the World War II Memorial, conduct research at the National Archives, and prepare for an expedition to the beaches of D-Day. “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to research at the National Archives and collaborate with professors at George Washington University,” said Zielke.

The final leg of their journey is to Normandy, France where they will tour Omaha and Utah Beaches, walking in the footsteps of history. After visiting museums, sites of historic battles, and churches that were used as field hospitals, the journey concludes at the Normandy American Cemetery. There, Zielke will deliver a graveside eulogy for the Silent Hero she spent months researching.

“This program helps a new generation of Americans understand the sacrifice for freedom made during Operation Overlord,” said National History Day Executive Director Dr. Cathy Gorn. “Nothing relates to the significance of the sacrifices made in Normandy better than a personal connection. Students become well acquainted with their Silent Heroes, often referring to them as a friend or family member. The eulogies they deliver are often tear filled, powerful, and incredibly moving. I am confident Cecelia will walk away with a powerful understanding of the sacrifices so many Silent Heroes made in World War II.”

The Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom® Albert H. Small Student and Teacher Institute is coordinated by National History Day® and is funded by a generous donation from Mr. Albert H. Small, a veteran himself.

Zielke, under the guidance of Bayens, will create a memorial profile on She is up to the task: “I have created websites for National History Day projects in the past, so I am thrilled to use this medium again to develop a unique, lasting memorial for my Silent Hero,” she said. “I know that this opportunity to get to know a World War II hero who perished during the Normandy Invasion is a privilege and will greatly expand my own comprehension of sacrifice. For these reasons, I cannot wait to share the story of our hero and our personal discoveries with the community and other students upon our return. I will give more updates as soon as I have found my Silent Hero!”

To date, the Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom® Albert H. Small Student & Teacher Institute has told the stories of over 100 brave men and women on in these powerful digital memorials by past participants. (View them at “I am very grateful to Mr. Albert H. Small and National History Day to have given me this opportunity to participate in this program!” said Zielke.

NHD is a non-profit education organization headquartered in College Park, MD. Established in 1974, NHD promotes an appreciation for historical research among middle and high school students through multiple annual programs. For more information, visit


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