Professor of History Tom Conner is offering a unique opportunity to local residents and the Hillsdale College community to travel to Europe and explore World War sites this summer.
In honor of the 100th anniversary of America’s entrance into World War I, Conner, who helps lead the Hillsdale Summer Study Abroad’s Churchill World War II high school trips, is taking those interested June 2 – 17 to historical sites from Amsterdam to Paris for $3,200 per person, not including airfare. Hillsdale College students have the opportunity to earn up to three credits from the trip.
“If you tour with Doc, you will have a guide whose love for the land, the people, and its history shine through in everything he tells you,” said sophomore Sammy Roberts, who participated in the 2014 high school Europe trip with Conner.
Although most of the sites concern WWI, the group will visit some relative to WWII, including the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and Normandy’s cemetery, one of Conner’s favorite sites, he said.
Conner said he approximates that he has led college students on six trips alone since 1990. SInce 2004, he has helped lead the admissions office’s Churchill WWII trip every summer.
Conner said he enjoys watching students encounter history for themselves and that observations student have made over the years stick with him. He recalled once, at a French military cemetery at Verdun, he was looking at 15,000 crosses with a student from a vantage point from which you can see the entire expanse.
“One of the students said one time, ‘Wouldn’t it be something, a miracle, if all the dead could just stand by their grave and you could just actually see, see them in their youth and see that each cross represents a life that was cut short in battle?’” Conner said. “It’s way too easy to see and think that’s just the cost of war, but if you can actually make yourself see that those represent young men, not unlike the young men walking around campus today, that’s when the real tragedy of war sets in.”
For this trip, however, Conner said he is eager to lead a mixed-age group.
In September, Conner advertised for the trip through service clubs, the radio, and all-college emails. As a result of this, members of the tour vary to include a variety of participants, including a retired judge, a hospital administrator, and several Hillsdale parents.
Benzing Residence House Director Sue Postle signed up for the trip, having loved her experience going on the WWII HSSA trip in the summer of 2014, she said.
“I love traveling to Europe, and Doc. Conner is a very knowledgeable historian to lead the trip,” Postle said. “Its definitely great to go with people who know the spots to go.”
Assistant Director of Career Services John Quint ’09 began traveling with Conner as a college student. As a sophomore, he met Conner, who was the faculty adviser for Sigma Chi men’s fraternity. Their combined interests of baseball and the appreciation of music led the two to travel to see the Chicago symphony orchestra and the San Francisco Giants. The two then became travel companions, and Quint has accompanied Conner to Europe.
“All the knowledge that he has of the World Wars and the history of France and Europe, watching him give a lecture while I’m standing downtown Pairs or walking along the shores of Brest, it left an impact on me,” Quint said. “His passions for the history, and especially for American ties to these sites, is contagious.”
Conner is writing a book on the overseas monuments and memorial cemeteries the U.S. government maintains. There are altogether eight burial grounds maintained by the United State for World War I deaths, and Conner will take participants of the summer trip to three of them.
“It’s a real thrill to see people come in contact with those places for the first time and realize that this has been one of the undertakings of our governments for the last 70 – 80 years,” Conner said.
Although Quint is not joining the trip in June because of a work conference in the States, he said he plans to go to Europe in the two weeks leading up to the trip for more travels with Conner.
“You’re guaranteed an exceptional trip,” Quint said. “It will be very hard to replicate this. Someone as knowledgeable, as genuine, as well-respected as Doc Conner, you don’t get to travel with someone like that very often. At least not at this price.”