One Meridian high school student will be spending Memorial Day researching a World War II soldier from Idaho. He’s looking for help from the community to remember a soldier who died in Normandy.
Josh White is a sophomore at Renaissance High School. He and his teacher Janelle Gilson are taking part in a national program designed to teach students about World War II.
White is researching the life of Army Technician Fourth Grade Ray O. Coffey. He’s learned a few things from census and military records, but can’t find a lot about Coffey’s life in Boise.
“It’s just really, really sad. And I don’t feel like people have told him thank you for the sacrifice he made. He just went off and died and got forgotten and I want to make sure he’s not forgotten and that we can tell him thank you and we can give him the respect that he deserves,” says White.
Here’s what White and Gilson know so far:
Coffey was born in 1905. Coffey left Boise High School when his father died. He had four siblings. He worked in the mining industry. He was older, 37, when he joined the military to fight in World War WII. And his younger brother was in the Air Force. Coffey never married and he didn’t have any children.
Coffey was a combat engineer in the war. He died 17 days after D-Day in Normandy and is buried there. White hopes a relative, or someone who knew Coffey’s family, can tell him more about the soldier’s life.
“One thing that I’ve learned is how many soldiers are forgotten throughout all the sacrifices they made, people are starting to forget about them and it’s really important to me that they get remembered and they get their thanks,” White says.
The program is called “Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom, Albert H. Small Student and Teacher Institute.” It’s designed to help high school students learn more about World War II. Each year, the 15 participants start in January, reading about the war. Then they pick one person from their home state who was killed in Normandy and was buried in the American cemetery there.
Their goal is to research that “Silent Hero” and create a website to help remember them. In June, White and Gilson will go to France. They’ll visit D-Day sites and the American cemetery. White will write a eulogy for Coffey and read it at his grave site.
White says the project has changed his life.
“It makes it more real. You think it’s a textbook thing that you’re learning about but this is popping out to me and opening my eyes to history that this is a real thing, this is a real event and not just something we read in a book.”
If anyone has information about Ray O. Coffey, contact Janelle Gilson at 208-258-4442 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Find Samantha Wright on Twitter @samwrightradio
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