Students from Aspen to Glenwood enlisted to make sure U.S. sacrifices in WWII are never forgotten

Paul Bushong, left, meets one of the students from Glenwood Springs, Gisely Torres that will be visiting the National World War II Museum in New Orleans and go to Normandy, France, to learn about WWII through a scholarship he provided.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

Though the years are rolling by and the first-hand accounts of World War II are fading, Paul Bushong wants to make sure the sacrifices made by U.S. troops are never forgotten.

Bushong also is a firm believer in helping youth in the Roaring Fork Valley further their education.

He’s figured out a way to meld his passions.

Nine students from Aspen to Glenwood Springs received scholarships from Bushong’s foundation to travel to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans next month, and then go on a museum-led tour of the battlefields on the beaches of Normandy, France.

“All the old events are being lost,” said Bushong, an 88-year-old resident of Aspen Glen. “It was just sort of bothering me. I decided to do something about.”

He served in the Korean War but visited Normandy about 30 years ago and was moved by the experience.

He already had a good working relationship with the Aspen Community Foundation. For the past four years he’s provided scholarships to seniors in Carbondale and at the three high schools in Glenwood Springs. He targets youth who have “fallen through the cracks” and don’t intend on going to four-year schools. He provides funding for two-year programs at vocational schools. He’s helped numerous young adults get rolling in mechanic school, cosmetology and even as a gunsmith.

Over the four years, his Fast Forward foundation has provided 53 children with about $290,000 in scholarships with the help of Aspen Community Foundation. He enlisted the help of Susanne Morrison, community relations director at the foundation, to set up the World War II history tour.

“His big criteria was to have them share their experiences next fall” with other students, Morrison said. Only sophomores and juniors this school year would be eligible so they could make presentations next year.

Morrison worked with principals and history teachers at the high schools in Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs to encourage students to apply. They had to write essays expressing why they were interested. Nine were selected after screening to participate in the Normandy Academy Student Tour led by the National World War II Museum. The Roaring Fork contingent will account for nine of the 29 students from across the United States on the tour this summer.

The 12-day trip June 19 through 30 will take the students from Denver to New Orleans, then to Paris and ultimately to Normandy, where they will visit the beaches where Allied troops landed on D-Day and the cemeteries where thousands of troops were buried.

Morrison was Bushong’s liaison with the war museum. She said Bushong saw only one flaw in the itinerary: The tour didn’t include a stop at the iconic Eiffel Tower.

“He said, ‘You can’t send these kids all the way to Paris and have them look at the Eiffel Tour. They have to go up in the tower,’” Morrison said.

The tour organizers added a day at the end of the trip to accommodate Bushong’s wishes. He’s providing the funds to make it happen.

“He has a very big heart,” Morrison said.

The students selected for the tour are Ian Murtagh, Chloe Brettman and Maya McDonough of Aspen High School; Natalie Simecek and Josef Lloyd of Basalt High School; Ralph Good of Roaring Fork High School; and Dylan Uren, Gisely Torres and Eric Bucchin of Glenwood Springs High School.

Each family must contribute $700 to the cost of the experience.

The students and at least one parent of each gathered Wednesday at the Community Fund office in Basalt to get acquainted and meet Bushong.

“There were a lot of hugs,” Morrison said.

Bushong said the students impressed him.

“I just think these kids will have a bang-up time,” he said.

Murtagh, a junior at Aspen High, certainly thinks so.

“I’ve always had a great love for history and for World War II,” he said, adding most of his studies have focused on the Pacific Theater.

This trip will provide the chance to study the European Theater in depth.

He’s looking forward to visiting the beaches where so many troops proved their bravery and many made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and cause.

He said he first became interested in World War II when he stayed home sick from school as a fifth-grader. A television channel was showing a mini-series documentary about World War II in high definition. He was hooked.

In addition, Murtagh’s grandfather was the captain of a minesweeper that was stationed at New Orleans during World War II, so he’s eager to learn more about the role of minesweepers while visiting the national museum.

Murtagh said he welcomes the requirement of making a presentation to other students next fall about his experiences.

“I want to be able to tell anyone that will listen to it,” he said.

He considers it an honor “to keep this history alive.”

Bucchin, a junior at Glenwood Springs High School, is also a history buff who saw a chance to further her understanding of a formative U.S. and world event.

“It was a great opportunity,” she said, “and I couldn’t pass it up.”

She is looking forward to talking to people who served in the French Resistance while the tour visits Normandy.

Her grandfather served in Europe during World War II, she said, so the trip will help with understanding what he encountered.

Buccin and the other students are diving into special studies before the trip. They were assigned five books to read, along with podcasts and videos.

Once completed, Buccin intends to report on her experiences at part of the Capstone Project required of seniors in the Roaring Fork School District. She will craft a presentation on what she learned to other students as part of that project, also fulfilling Bushong’s wishes.

After meeting the students, Bushong is confident they will fulfill the requirement to spread their knowledge and keep the memory alive of the sacrifices made by so many during World War II.

“I didn’t spend this $30,000 to give these kids a nice trip to Europe,” he said with a laugh.

If it goes as planned, the Normandy and World War II Education Funds by Paul D. Bushong at the Aspen Community Foundation will award additional scholarships next year for the France trip.


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