Denver Police in NormandyA report from the meeting with Jake Schroeder in France.
The activities of the Eurolanche Fan Club aren’t limited to visits of Colorado Avalanche games. During the course of more than 11 years, the Fan Club brought its members lots of great experiences, memories and friendships. Jake Schroeder, whom Avalanche fans know best as the anthem singer prior to (almost) every home game at the Pepsi Center, is a great example. Jake has been friends with several Eurolanche members for a couple of years thanks to the Eurolanche Invasion project. In summer, Fan Club president David Puchovsky had the opportunity to visit Jake in France and to learn about his work as director of the Denver Police Activities League (PAL). Denver PAL is associated with the Denver Police Department, organizing preventive projects and other related activities. One of the most interesting projects “come over” to Normandy, connecting and interlinking Colorado and Europe – just like Eurolanche does.
Paris is the most visited place in the world. It’s such a popular tourist destination that I know more people that have been to Paris than those that didn’t. Without a doubt, the French capital is one of those must-go places everyone should visit at least once in a lifetime. Should you embark on a journey to the home of the Eiffel Tower or the famous Louvre, you should also consider heading to another beautiful place in the country – Normandy. The region, located in western France, is more than worthy of a 3 or 4-hour drive from Paris. Even if you take the scenic route, which is longer than the drive via the highway, you won’t regret your choice, as you’ll be rewarded with marvelous sights – picturesque villages with typical houses made of stone, imposing churches, narrow roads, endless fields, small bridges… And World War II monuments and memorials, commemorating the battles that took place in the region in 1944 as the Third Reich began to crumble, quite literally. Said memorials show how difficult and slow the Allied advances were following the invasion of mainland Europe by American, Canadian and British troops to retake the continent. Every single inch of Norman soil bore witness to history, which influenced the fates of millions and millions, both then and now.
The epicenter of D-Day is the village of Sainte-Mère-Église, the first village to be captured by the Allies. The first village Hitler lost in Europe. It was here, on the night of June 6, 1944, where paratroopers of the 82nd and the 101st Airborne Divisions began to land. Many died while still in the air, as they were dropped off directly over enemy positions. John Steele was one of the fortunate ones. His parachute got stuck on the roof of the church and he pretended to be dead for hours. All the while a bloody battle was fought in the streets of the village. In the end, the Germans captured him, yet he was able to escape, go back and fight on. His story and the story of the battle of Sainte-Mère-Église are shown in The Longest Day (1962) starring John Wayne.
An American in Normandy
The bravery of American troops shown (not only) at Sainte-Mère-Église is remembered by locals to this very day. American flags hang from the windows, statues and memorials are everywhere, while paratrooper motives are in each restaurant, ice cream parlor, or shop. An American can feel at home, as well as proud to see that the world didn’t forget the sacrifice of his or her ancestors. Maybe this is one of the reasons why Jake Schroeder, who makes and organizes preventive projects for kids from Colorado, policemen and American WWII veterans, chose Normandy as his second home of sorts. „I escorted WWII veterans back here for six years and started doing PAL trips on our own in 2015, bringing cops, veterans and kids back,“ says Jake about his connection to the village and the area. „It’s an area that I have a lot of knowledge about from coming here and a lot of personal knowledge from the veterans that I’ve traveled with. It’s an area that I love, so it’s easy for me to want to come here and share this with everybody,“ he continues.
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The interview takes place on a spacious terrace of a big house at the main street of Sainte-Mère-Église. Recently, the Denver PAL directly bought the house in order to organize its preventive projects. The house feels like it’s straight out of a fairy tale. The “stone” architecture, four rooms with four bunk beds, an ancient attic with its own history, several rooms with king size beds, an enormous living room with a big American flag, a kitchen connected to the terrace, which is full of almost picture-perfect flowers. From there, we go through the small corridor, almost like a tunnel, to the long garden and the farmhouse. It’s quiet, almost tranquil, with daylight almost until 11 p.m. The peaceful and enchanting atmosphere is an unbelievable contrast to the gruesome battles fought decades ago. For whom is such a trip and stay at place like this meant for?
„We have two different kinds of trips. One is where kids pay for themselves to be here and the PAL makes a little bit of money, but not much. With several groups coming, it covers our basic expenses for the house for the house, with food, water, electricity, trash, internet, taxes and all that. There’s another kind of trip, we did one this summer, with a school called St. Rose of Lima in Denver, an inner-city, catholic school with mostly Latino kids, these great, great kids with pretty low-income backgrounds. All they had to come up with was the money for their flights, so they worked for a few months, did fundraisers and they raised enough money for their flights. Then we pay for everything else for them, like ground transportation, food, museum tickets and all that,“ says Jake, describing the groups of students, who became the very first participants of this project.
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Lest we forget
One could compare these trips more or less to a summer camp. Since the groups are much more smaller than your typical summer camp ensemble, the trip and stay also differ from your typical camp. As Jake told me, the kids learn to cook together, clean together, cooperate with each other, develop their personalities and much, much more that they didn’t do or experience before. They get to know a different culture and last but not least, they get to learn about their own history at places it was made.
Almost everyone holds their breath as they visit Omaha Beach and the nearby military cemetery, where thousands of American soldiers fighting for freedom were laid to rest. Yet, Normandy isn’t only about World War II. „The cool thing about Normandy is that we go to a church at Angoville, which was used as an aid station [during WWII] and there’s still blood in the pews, but the church is from the 12th century. It’s not just this debarquement history, the history of the invasion, but it’s also the history of the Hundred Years’ Wars, the history of the Templar knights, the history of France and the Britons. There’s so much – you can touch a wall, you know, this wall that I’m touching right now is probably 400 years old. As Americans, we joke about it, like ‘This whole town is a hundred years old’ and everyone’s like ‘Wow!’ They you come to Europe and it’s just wonderful,“ explains Jake.
Our mission is to never let them and their stories be forgotten. This is how Jake described the main goals of his transatlantic endeavor, talking about American war veterans, whom, as I’ve already mentioned, Jake has been accompanying across Normandy for a couple of years now. He knows that in the future, he won’t be able to take back any veterans. This is why he’s so determined to help share their stories with future generations, using his program as a suitable platform.
Jake plans to bring between 8 and 10 groups of schoolchildren from Colorado. The fact the Denver PAL owns a house in Normandy is a great advantage, as Jake doesn’t only plan kids’ groups, but hopes for groups consisting of Denver cops, teachers, or anyone wanting to explore Normandy and to support Denver PAL financially. PAL organizes many activities in Denver, mainly aimed at socially disadvantaged children, including sports and other related events, where policemen go fishing with kids, or they play football or baseball. There’s a lot PAL does and its activities in Europe bring the entire program to a whole new level. Thanks to this, maybe even kids from other US states, or even Europe, will have the opportunity to visit Normandy. „I’d like to have the house be used all year round. I think that we can open it up to groups from Europe in order for schoolchildren from all around Europe to have the opportunity to see these things too. I’d really like it to be a collaborative and cooperative place. I think that we’ll have a lot of interest from schools. We’ve already had a lot of interest from schools from all around the country in the US,“ said Jake about his plans for the future.
To learn more about PAL, visit www.denverpal.com. To support Denver PAL and its activities, contact Jake Schroeder at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Original text: David Puchovsky
Translation: Michal Hezely
Eurolanche.com, Worldwide, email@example.com
26/09/2018 - 18:43