For 75th anniversary of D-Day, North Carolina students made veterans' trip to France possible

“It’s important for us to show that we still care. And that we still remember everyone’s sacrifice," a high school sophomore said.

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By Kim Cornett

In the eyes of six students from Chapel Hill High School in North Carolina, Jacques Michienzi and George Chall helped save the world.

Jacques Michienzi, 95, was an Army Airborne Ranger who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. George Chall, 96, was a combat medic with Gen. Patton’s Third Army in World War II.

And while high school sophomores Matthew Griesedieck, Elena Lowinger, Miles Charles, Cathy Charles, Kaelyn Elien and Daniel Price might come from a different generation, they wanted to make sure the two veterans had the chance to be honored on the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

U.S. World War II veterans Joseph George Chall, fourth from the left, and James Anthony "Jacques" Michienzi, third from the right, pose with children prior to taking part in a ceremony on Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, western France on June 5, 2019, in homage to native American Indians who took part in the D-Day landings of World War II.Loic Venance / AFP - Getty Images

That’s why the students spent months giving presentations at school events, working concession stands at sporting events and dances, and speaking to the local community as part of the “NC to Normandy” campaign. They ended up raising $25,000 to send Michienzi and Chall and their loved ones to Normandy, France, for the occasion.

“It’s important for us to show that we still care. And that we still remember everyone’s sacrifice,” Griesedieck said.

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The actions of the two veterans came at a high cost, and both are still haunted by what they saw in service to the Allied forces.

Michienzi, a highly decorated veteran, was diagnosed with PTSD years after his military service. He still vividly recalls the horrors he witnessed while fighting in the Battle of the Bulge.

“We took a heavy toll,“ says Michienzi. He choked back tears as he told NBC News that he “gets inspired” when people thank him for his service.

U.S. World War II veteran James Anthony "Jacques" Michienzi at a ceremony on Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, western France, on Tuesday, in homage to Native Americans who took part in the D-Day landings.Loic Venance / AFP - Getty Images

Chall, too, is still haunted by his memories of the battle.

“I did treat a number of patients who were horribly wounded. And each one of those remains a capsule in my mind to this day,” Chall said.

Both veterans returned this week to the land they helped liberate. When they attend the commemoration event on Thursday, the students, who study French, will be at their sides acting as interpreters.

The students are accompanied by two teachers, Robin McMahon and Tony Carter, who together organized the first of such trips for the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

“The idea started as a whisper on Omaha Beach,” McMahon said.

Carter added that his own inspiration is watching “students learn through living history.”

"It was transforming not just for them but for me, as well,” he said.

In France on Wednesday, Lowinger noted that the veterans' sacrifice struck a personal note.

"The reason why I'm standing here is because these men stood here — 75 years ago," she said, "and as a Jewish girl, it's something I can never say thank you enough for."