Atop Pointe Du Hoc, a hundred feet above beaches where nearly seven decades ago so many soldiers lost their lives, craters left by artillery remain. So, too, do piles of steel and piles of cement rubble. Nearby, a sign reads, something to the effect of “Enter at your own risk.”
Overlooking these northern France beaches, young Joseph Landoni of Sequim searched for the identity of an American veteran with only a name, rank, hometown and date he was killed. Even after Landoni’s eye-opening experience across the Atlantic, he’s still searching.
Landoni, now a junior at Sequim High School, joined teacher Tricia Billes in a National History Day program that takes students to Washington, D.C., and to Normandy, France, to do research for a special project. Students research veterans killed in action and create websites documenting veterans from their home state.
Landoni’s project was Terrence D. Cosgriff of Spokane. Landoni’s research revealed Cosgriff was an Army TEC5 (Technician Fifth Grade) with the 119th anti-aircraft battalion. Cosgriff was killed on Aug. 1, 1944, by German bombs; he was trying to provide medical help for Joseph Goldberg, a fellow soldier. Goldberg died several days later with shrapnel wounds.
Landoni and Billes worked to find family in Spokane who could help illuminate a bit of Cosgriff’s life, but found phone calls unanswered or phone numbers disconnected.
“We had a hard time finding anything,” Landoni says.
Billes, a Sequim Middle School humanities teacher who won the 2010 National History Day Walt Crowley Teacher of Merit award for Washington, sent in an application through National History Day last November — “I didn’t think we were going to get it,” Landoni says — and found she and Landoni were one of 15 teacher-student combos to be accepted.
The two traveled to Washington, D.C., in mid-June (the last day of school, which Landoni ungrudgingly missed) to visit several key sites, particularly the National Archives. There, the pair saw the archive’s war journal and Cosgriff’s original death notice.
The students and teachers attended lectures twice a day for several days at George Washington University and visited war memorials.
Other students were from across the country, Landoni says.
“You can tell they try to get different types of kids,” he says.
The student-teacher contingent then travelled to Bayeux, France, their base for several days of visiting sites of the 1944 Normandy invasion.
Walking among more than 9,000 graves at the American Cemetery and Memorial, one that honors American soldiers who died in Europe during World War II, Landoni noted that the grave sites were in impeccable order. And yet, he says, there are only 700 completed research projects for the fallen soldiers.
“Partly what we’re doing is giving them a name,” he says.
The contingent visited Utah and Omaha beaches, where the majority of American forces landed.
Students then visited graves and recited eulogies they created and recited elegies for their adopted veterans.
“It was pretty emotional for me, being at his grave,” Landoni says.
With the research and photos, Landoni created a website about Cosgriff for the National History Day project and had to turn it in at the end of August; research they compile goes to the cemetery at Normandy for future visitors.
While others found a wealth of information about their veterans, Landoni says he feels he still has several holes in his research. He has a picture of the 119th battalion, but isn’t sure who Cosgriff is; there are no accompanying names with it.
If he does hear from a Cosgriff family member, Landoni says he’ll update his website — as if he is echoing the people he met in Northern France, whose only words of English were, “We don’t forget.”