Four days before he climbed aboard the airplane that would drop him over Nazi-occupied France, Pvt. Delmer D. Linaburg sent a letter to his mother back home in Winchester, Va. “Mom in the near future you might not hear from me for about a month,” he wrote, “so don’t worry about me, and mother in case anything should happen to me, I want you to know that you are the best mother in the world and I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”
On June 6, 1944, Pvt. Linaburg — U.S. Army, 101st Airborne, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment — stepped out of the plane and into the void. He was 21.
Meanwhile, Albert H. Small was thousands of miles away from the beaches of Normandy. He was a young Navy sailor serving on a light cruiser in the Pacific.
Today, Small is a 93-year-old D.C. developer and philanthropist who thinks all Americans should remember what was achieved during the war. And he thinks the defeat of fascism can be encapsulated in what happened on a single day: June 6, 1944.
“That was the climax of the war,” Small said. “If we hadn’t been successful on D-Day invading Germany, we’d have lost the war.”
Robert G. Perry, chairman of the National Trust for the Humanities, has known Small for 30 years. “He thinks no American should forget about the sacrifices on this one day,” Perry said.
But how to communicate that? Small had an idea.
“One of his mantras was that the government should lease 747s and just shuttle Americans to Normandy,” Perry said.
I love that notion — a fleet of 747s depositing Americans in France — but Perry convinced his friend that another approach might be more workable.
And thus was born the Albert H. Small Normandy Institute, launched in 2011. Each year, 15 high school juniors from across the United States are selected for the program. The students each pick an American from their area who is buried in Normandy and, with the help of their teachers, do extensive research on his life.