History, notes the cliche, has a way of repeating itself.
Dover High’s Spencer Valenti, however, will be making a bit of history when he and teacher T.H. Leighty journey to the World War II Normandy battlefield later this summer.
Valenti and Leighty were one team of 15 selected in a nationwide competition sponsored by the National History Day organization. This is the fifth year the Maryland-based group has sent student/teacher teams to Normandy to study World War II and the Normandy invasion.
They will be the first student/teacher team from Dover High to make the trip.
Although Leighty had submitted their names for the competition, both teacher and student were shocked upon learning in January they had been selected and soon would be traveling to Europe, the first time either has visited that continent.
“I was like, ‘really?’” Leighty said upon receiving the congratulatory phone call. “I figured there were two other guys out there nerdier than us who were better qualified.”
Spencer said his mother’s excited reaction almost drowned out his conversation when Leighty called him with the good news.
“I still can’t believe it,” he said.
Nominating Spencer for the competition was an easy task, Leighty said.
“I wanted someone who was truly interested in the subject matter, someone who would appreciate it and get something out of it,” he said.
The National History Day group is sponsoring the two week trip, which will begin June 20, free of charge.
“All we have to pay for are our passports and our drive to Washington, D.C.,” Leighty said.
But it won’t be just a sightseeing trip: there is some serious work involved before anyone starts packing their suitcases. Between now and June, both Spencer and Leighty must complete a program of study that involves weekly reading assignments and interactive online question and answer sessions.
American, British and other Allied forces launched an invasion, dubbed Operation Overlord, across the English Channel on June 6, 1944, intending to roll back Adolf Hitler’s armies and defeat the Nazi war machine. They succeeded 11 months later.
As part of a detailed study of Operation Overlord, Spencer will examine the various aspects that went into planning and carrying out the invasion, including the operational and even political influences on how the plan was carried out.
In addition, Spencer will research the life of a Delaware soldier, Pvt. William Verderamo, of Wilmington. Verderamo, 29, was killed on the first day of the invasion, and is buried in the Normandy American Cemetery.
From census records, Spencer and Leighty have learned Verderamo was living with a large number of relatives in 1940. One was a nephew, Francis C. Sarro Jr., who reportedly still lives in Wilmington.
Although they have learned Verderamo served in prior campaigns, earning a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, they have little additional information on him. Further research will, hopefully turn up photographs and more details on his life, Spencer said.
Footsteps of history
After spending four days in Washington, D.C., studying and touring the city’s World War II memorials, Spencer and Leighty will continue their work in France. There they will tour the battlefields and, just before Independence Day, Spencer will deliver a eulogy for Verderamo and lay a wreath at his gravesite.
“By the time they travel to France, they have formed a personal connection that allows them to better understand the sacrifices that people made for their country and our personal freedoms,” NHD Executive Director Cathy Gorn noted in a press release announcing Spencer and Leighty’s selection.
Spencer expects the trip to be a defining moment in his life and in his understanding of World War II.
“You can only learn so much in the classroom,” he said. “Most people think it stops there, but there’s so much more. I’ll be able to walk in the footsteps of history.”