Student visits hometown of WWII veteran he researched
Concordia Rotary Club welcomed Dawson Podlena and Kyle Johnson as speakers for a special meeting Thursday at the Nazareth Motherhouse.
Podlena, a junior at Seaman High School in Topeka, was selected as one of only 15 students for Normandy Sacrifice for Freedom: Albert H. Small Student Teacher Institute in 2015.
The institute is dedicated to teaching a new generation about the sacrifices made by U.S. service members during World War II. Podlena researched the life of Benjamin Franklin McKinney, a solider from Concordia, who was killed taking part in the D-Day landings at Normandy.
Podlena and his teacher/mentor, Kyle Johnson, traveled to Washington, D.C. and to Normandy, France, to learn more about McKinney and the thousands of servicemen who took part in the invasion.
After touring Omaha Beach, seeing where McKinney fell in action, and visiting McKinney's grave at the Normandy American Cemetery, Podlena welcomed the opportunity to visit McKinney's hometown.
While in Concordia, Podlena visited McKinney's gravesite at Pleasant Hill Cemetery and placed a French flag and an American flag there.
After sharing facts about McKinney's life and service and reading the eulogy he had delivered at the Normandy American Cemetery, Podlena presented a bottle of sand taken from Normandy to Marilyn Johnston in appreciation of her help in bringing McKinney's story to light. Another bottle of sand was presented to Don Lambert, who has publicized Podlena's efforts to tell McKinney's story.
Among guests at the Rotary meeting were Tom and Annaruth Jensen Schick, Sperry, Okla., and Doris Jensen-Hake, Wichita. Annaruth and Doris are nieces of McKinney's but never knew him because he died before they were born. They heard about the presentation from a friend, Janice Swenson, Concordia, who called them when she read Lambert's story about McKinney in The Blade-Empire.
Lambert became interested in Podlena's story when he was working on a project in Topeka and visited a Rotary Club meeting where Podlena spoke. He made the arrangements for the Concordia visit.
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