Lewistown native tours with veterans

LEWISTOWN – A visit to a museum 10 years ago started Connie Kennedy’s interest in historical tours.

“I visited the D-Day Museum in New Orleans 10 years ago and learned that historical tours existed. It is the best museum I have ever been to in my life,” Kennedy, a Lewistown native, said.

However, the cost of some of the tours she looked up online prevented her from pursuing it further. It wasn’t until she came across Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours on the Internet three years ago, that she was able to make her dream a reality.

“The company offered a Band of Brothers Tour and I was very interested in doing that tour because it followed the footsteps of East Company, a unit I became very familiar with after reading the ‘Band of Brothers’ book written by Stephen Ambrose and had watched the HBO series under the same name multiple times,” she said.

In 2010 she went on the Band of Brothers Tour and since then has gone on other Stephen Ambrose historical tours such as the Italian Campaign, Patton, Iwo Jima, Lewis and Clarke, The Civil War and Poland. This year she was the tour director for the D-Day to the Rhine Tour that started in England and ended in Germany.

“When I was asked to be tour director, that was the first thing I thought about was what I would witness – thousands of veterans coming back to honor the fallen and to be together in this sacred place once again. I was on board immediately – even thought I was six months pregnant when I was asked – I knew I could make it work for me to be there,” she said.

Although it was her first tour as director, Kennedy said everything went smoothly.

“This was my first tour as tour director. My job was to ensure the group was well taken care of and to provide logistic support for Ron (Ron Drez, president of Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours). Our tour group was 49 in size but the tour went very smoothly. Everyone wanted to be on time each day to ensure we visited each site on the itinerary,” she said.

The tour started on June 1. The first stop was London, because the planning for the D-Day invasion was based in England’s capital.

“We visited the Churchill War Rooms. It was from these very rooms that have preserved so well that the early Allied forces were led. We visited Southwick House. That was General Eisenhower’s command post prior to the war and where he gave the order ‘Let’s go’ for the D-Day invasion,” she said.

The last stop in London was Bletchley Park, where the Enigma machine was used to break the German code. The group then took a ferry across the English Channel into Cherboug, France, and made their way to Normandy. There, they took part in the 70th anniversary celebrations.

“There were daily parachute drops; vehicle parades involving half-tracks, jeeps, motorcycles and tanks; retro concerts and ceremonies honoring the thousands of World War II veterans making the voyage to Normandy,” she said.

Kennedy said the group was also invited to hear President Obama speak at The National Cemetery in Normandy.

“To hear the president of the United States honor our veterans in person, to see a 21-gun salute, to hear Taps play at the cemetery while being among the nearly 10,000 soldiers buried there, to see a fly-over by the United States Air Force – it was like a slow exhale from a long conversation – one that was sad but leaves you peaceful all at the same time.” she said.

Kennedy said it was wonderful to take part in the 70th anniversary celebrations in Normandy.

“It was a complete joy to be there. It was a very emotional day as you couldn’t help but think of what the beaches looked like or sounded like on the day,” she said.

Also at Normandy, the group toured Utah Beach, Brecourt Manor, Omaha Beach and Point Du Hoc. After their time in Normandy, they traveled to Paris, Belgium, Luxembourg and Frankfurt, Germany.

“We visited key bridges that were vital to the Allied push on Germany, the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge), a German veteran’s cemetery and General Patton’s grave. A three day extension to the tour includes a tour of Dachu, a former concentration camp, and a tour of Berchtesgaden, where Hitler’s private residences were, including the Eagle’s Nest, which is still intact and open to visitors today,” she said.

In addition to participating in historical tours, Kennedy also volunteers with various veterans organizations and events.

She is the daughter of Earl and Diana Clouser, of Lewistown, and now lives in York with her husband, Brent, and children, Finn and Fallon.