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Bedford woman to represent U.S. at Normandy event

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By John Barnhart

    Sperry Grills, a young Bedford woman, will represent the United States at a special dedication in Normandy in June.

    “This will be my fourth trip to France,” Grills said.
    Grills, a sophomore at Radford University, is a member of the Bedford International Alliance, a Bedford group that promotes exchanges between the Bedford area and communities in England and France whose history is intertwined with Bedford’s as a result of D-Day. She and her mother, Lisa Persinger, have participated in Alliance-sponsored trips. They got involved with the Alliance through Tom and Connie Messier and Grills learned about the history of D-Day.
    On her first trip, she got to be part of the dedication of Avenue de Bedford, the road  that  goes down to the section of Norman beach that was code named Omaha for the massive amphibious assault 70 years ago.
    That first trip also included a bit of culture shock. They stayed with an elderly Norman couple who did not speak English. Grills and her mother do not speak French.
    “It was challenging,” she said. “It was a lot of pointing.”
    It was also her first trip on an airplane.
    “I love flying,” she said. “I love it.”
    She also discovered, courtesy of her trips, that she does not get jet lag. The flights to Paris have all been night flights and she sleeps off and on. When Grills sleeps, her body is set to whatever time zone she wakes up in.
    Another trip took her to Ivybridge in England. The lady, who served the Bedford Boys at the local pub was still alive and Grills got to meet her. She also got to meet the current Duke of Bedford, Bedford’s namesake.
    “He set up nice lunches for us,” she said.
    Visiting England offers one advantage over the trips to France.
    “You could actually talk to people,” she said.
    However, non-francophones visiting Normandy with the Alliance have plenty of help. Some of the local folks in Normandy speak English and there are a couple of people in the Alliance who speak fluent French.
    Grills is impressed with Normandy. The people were very friendly to their American guests.  She was also impressed with the way they preserve history such as American World War II military vehicles that still run.
    This year marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing and a bell is being cast to commemorate it. It’s a huge bell, weighing in at 1,100 kilograms and will join the four existing bells in the bell tower at the Bayeux Cathedral. William the Conqueror took part in the cathedral’s consecration on July 14, 1077, and Grills will take part in the bell’s dedication on June 6, 2014.
    Her name will be on the bell which, she has been told, is expected to last at least 500 years. It’s called the Bell of Peace and Freedom and will bear the names of nine young adults, from nine different countries, and the names of the countries they represent. They have been designated the bell’s godparents and Grills represents the entire United States.
    All of them, like Grills—who turns 20 the day before the Alliance group leaves—are young, and there is a reason for that.
    “They want younger generations to be involved,” Grills said.
    The idea is to make sure the history is not forgotten and the organizers believe young people will be better able to present this history to other young people.
    Grills expects to remember and she’s thinking of a future day when she visits the bell and brings her grandchildren with her.
    Grills is working on a degree in nursing and hopes to eventually become a nurse-anesthetist, a goal that will involve post-graduate work.