BEAR CREEK — At just 19 years of age, Carl Scott, a military truck driver and mechanic, was deployed from Fort Bragg to the shores of Malta during World War II. Soon, he boarded a ship and expected to return home. But when he awoke the next morning in London, he discovered the ship was not headed back to North Carolina.
Instead, Scott was told he would be part of what became a historic Allied invasion against the Axis powers — storming the shores of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, now remembered as D-Day.
Scott, a Bear Creek native, survived the deadly offensive. He went through what would later be known as a “death trap” — Easy Red, Omaha Beach. The beach was the most heavily defended by the German army and was surrounded by cliffs on all sides. Those who did make it to the Omaha shores describe being pinned down by gunfire. All told, the 34,250 Americans stormed Easy Red that day, leading to 2,400 casualties, the largest number of any single beach on D-Day.
While many lives were lost and traumas remain, the result of D-Day was France’s was liberation and a step toward the end of WWII.
Scott was honorably discharged July 28, 1945. He died in 2006, but his memory and legacy live on — with the help of his family, a history teacher and a local high school class.
Scott’s heroic story was re-discovered by an American history class at Chatham Central High School led by Amy King. In 2020, King was named a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow by National Geographic. She was one of just 50 fellows selected from more than 2,500 of applicants across the U.S. and Canada. The fellowship took King, along with four other fellows, on a sailing expedition across six European countries to visit historical sites and engage in professional development training.
She called the trip, through Lindblad Expeditions, “a career-changing” opportunity.
On the voyage, which was delayed until this past summer due to COVID-19, she visited sites that defined WWII across France, Denmark and beyond, including Easy Red, Omaha Beach, along the French coast. As part of this expedition and professional development, King was tasked with creating a project for her students that would be presented to the public.
She knew the perfect place to start.
“I happen to know that I was going to have two students this semester in my class: Travis Crissman and Hallie Webster,” King said. “They are two great-grandchildren of Carl Scott, who lived in our community in Bear Creek and landed at D-Day.”
Crissman and Webster’s involvement in the 32-student class sparked what would become a semester-long research project about telling the story of WWII, its impact on N.C. and Scott’s life story.
After countless hours of research, synthesizing the information and 11-plus hours of practicing, King’s class presented the information to the Chatham County Board of Education and the community at the Dec. 12 board meeting.
“It’s obviously something we’re proud about,” said Matthew Smith, one of the students taking part in the 15-minute presentation. “Normally a school project you just do it to get it done, but this one had everyone buy-in because it was more important than the individual. It just meant a lot more.”
Seven total student presenters — Smith, Crissman, Webster, Rachel Batten, Lesly de la Sancha Arroyo, Kelsey Hussey and Olivia Jones — walked through a 32-slide presentation entitled “Impacts of D-Day and WWII: Global, Regional, Local,” detailing research they’d completed.
Board members, administrators and audience members gave King and her students a rousing ovation when the presentation was completed, with board member David Hamm describing it as “the cherry on the biggest cake you can make.”
“All I can just say is ‘Wow,’” he said. “I am beyond impressed.”
Prior to giving the final presentation, King said she made a conscious effort to make the story of Scott feel personal to every student in her class.
Earlier in the semester, two of Scott’s children came in and shared videos, brought in war medals and showed video recollections from Scott to make his heroic experiences come to life.
“It was just so moving for the students,” King said. “To hear him in his own words, when we watched his videos, and especially for his great-grandkids, they were really moved.”
It was more than just Scott’s story of WWII that came to life. King also gave the students choice in how they wanted to approach the presentation. While only seven students presented, it took all 32 to engage in the research.
“I know personally when I look at history and see the numbers it doesn’t really mean anything,” Hussey said. “But when you put a face to that number and realize each one of those was a person, it really makes it more real.”
Students were each asked to rank their choices of research interests. Focal points included the impact of the tides on ship movements for more science-minded students, battle strategies of each major world power, cemetery research on N.C. WWII veterans and more.
“Choice allows students to follow their passions,” King said. “And encourages greater participation because they have buy-in.”
The project also sparked curiosity among several of her students, which extended beyond the scope of the classroom. For example, Batten said she examined her personal family history after working on the project and found she was also connected to WWII veterans.
“I’ve been trying to find stuff like this on my grandaddy,” Batten said. “But it’s just tough to do, and it makes me wish I was old enough to ask him some of these big questions before he passed.”
Batten said it serves as an important reminder of the value of documenting family history.
For Scott’s participating grandchildren, the project was especially impactful. Webster said her grandfather died when she was an infant so she never really knew his stories or details about his war service. The project in King’s class was the first time she learned about this part of his life, and the first time she’s truly dug into her own family tree.
“I knew that he had been at D-Day, but never all the details before this,” Webster said. “I had never heard the stories.”
King said there were several times throughout the research that she and the class had to lean on the familial connections of Webster and Crissman to move the research forward. Crissman even called his grandmother and put her on speakerphone so the class could listen in to her responses to questions.
Jones, one of the student presenters who lives in Bear Creek and attends the same church as Webster, said she grew up hearing tidbits of information about Scott, but never knew his full story. Jones said she discovered through the class that Scott was a “silent hero.”
Jones wasn’t alone. King said she knew Scott personally from going to church with him before he died, which became a big reason for choosing to focus the project on his legacy. But even with that personal knowledge, she said she never realized all the experiences he had throughout the war. His family members describe Scott as fairly tight-lipped about his war stories except for brief moments when he came home from reunions with his war buddies. When he would return home from those reunions, his children and grandkids could get him to open up about his experiences, which his family documented. Those videoed recollections were shown to King’s class.
“It wasn’t just D-Day,” King said. “He went to France, then all of Northern Africa, then through the Strait of Gibraltar and on and on and all this stuff. You never see people who survive through all that.”
In many ways, Scott was fortunate throughout his deployment to go through so many warzones and return home relatively unscathed. He survived one of the bloodiest days in American history and was able to return to Bear Creek and start a family. Now, those stories finally get to be shared with the community.
“It’s kind of a miracle that I exist if you think about it,” Webster said.