Catlin Gabel: what education can be
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In 2011, Mariah Weber, Erin Murphy and Avery Thompson brought closure to families of eight WWII-era soldiers. In the process, history became a bit more personal. When Maron Faulkner, their French teacher at St. Mary’s Academy, asked for assistance with a WWII translation project, the three graduates of the French American International School were well prepared to help. While at first the project didn’t sound particularly interesting, as the weeks passed, they realized they were bringing history and memories to life.
For the families of the soldiers killed in a B-17 crash in the Alps near the French-Italian border, November 1, 1946, left a lot of unanswered questions and unrecovered remains. While some remains are buried in Arlington National Cemetery, more were, and are still, being recovered by a French and Italian group seeking to erect a memorial to the soldiers.
The challenge was that all the information on the crash and debris found at the site was in French, and little was known about the individual American soldiers. The three young students set about translating overseas information from French to English for the families of the soldiers, and translating biographical information from English to French for the French and Italian memorial team. Avery says, “The hardest part was trying to convey not only the literal meaning of the words but also the tone and voice of the authors.”
Each of the girls found it extremely rewarding to put their French language skills to use and work collaboratively with people in other countries. Mariah says, “To be able to be a part of an international team working to reunite the stories of the lost men with their families back in the United States just makes the work — if you can call something you enjoyed doing so much ‘work’ — all worth it.”
Erin agrees and says, “This project was incredibly rewarding and I would hope that there would be more like this in the future. I worked over the summer to help Maron finish the translations, and it was a lot of fun.”
Mariah adds, “We read articles that were in newspapers about how our work, along with the French and Italian team that was recovering the plane, was helping people find out more about their families. And to read about the people themselves as I was translating really made me feel as if I knew these men who had died decades before I was even born. So that when I took my trip to Washington, D.C., and visited their graves at Arlington Cemetery, it felt like I was visiting old friends, and that was really special for me.”
All three girls credit the education and language instruction they received at FAIS for equipping them with the skills necessary for this unique project, and for their thirst to speak additional languages, as all of them do. The ability to speak several languages opens doors and expands career opportunities. Avery says, “I would really love to do something … where I could mix my love for languages with my interest in medicine when I’m older.”
Erin thanks her parents for sending her to FAIS; she says, “I attended FAIS for eleven years … I fell in love with languages and cultures from around the world, which was no doubt fostered at FAIS. Although it was my parents’ decision to enroll me at FAIS, I am incredibly grateful that they did, because language is without a doubt the most rewarding skill that I have ever learned.”
A skill for which many people, on two continents, are also quite grateful.