Ever since Evan DuFresne was in seventh grade, he has wanted to be in the military.
Now a high school junior, DuFresne has won a unique opportunity — to pay his respects to a Minnesota soldier who served and died in World War II.
DuFresne, a student at North Lakes Academy in Forest Lake, has been selected to take part in a yearlong history project sponsored by the National History Day organization.
Along with his history teacher, Christopher Stewart, DuFresne will research Pvt. William Bremer, who died during the June 1944 D-Day landings in Normandy, France, and is buried in the Normandy American Cemetery. DuFresne and Stewart were among a handful of teams chosen from more than 100 applicants nationwide to participate in “Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom.”
DuFresne will spend time after school and on weekends learning about Bremer. He’ll also travel to Washington, D.C., to do additional research. When he’s done, he and Stewart will fly to Normandy, where DuFresne, 17, will eulogize Bremer at his grave site.
While he was searching for someone to study, DuFresne looked for soldiers who did what he intends to do after he graduates from high school.
“I wanted to center it around the military career I want to go into, the U.S. Army,” he said. “I also wanted to do a soldier that most likely wouldn’t have his story told as often.” In his research, DuFresne has focused specifically on members of the Army who did not attain higher ranks.
“I feel I’m more attracted to the stories of the lower ranked people, because they spend most of their time on the ground doing the physical aspects of the job, and that’s what I want to get into,” he said. “I don’t want to get stuck behind a cubicle — I want to go out and do stuff.”
He also wanted to choose someone from the Twin Cities, in hopes that the soldier still might have relatives in the area. That’s why he chose Bremer, who was from Ramsey County and posthumously was awarded the Purple Heart.
Over the course of his research, DuFresne will read letters to and from Bremer and talk with any willing family members.
DuFresne and Stewart estimate that the research will add four to five hours a week to DuFresne’s schoolwork. But both are excited to take a close look at the life of a military man.
“For us just to get the chance to look back at these 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds who, in the middle of the 1940s, had a whole life ahead of them, and said, ‘We’re going hit that same pause button and we’re going to do something different that’s bigger than me,’ that’s pretty incredible,” Stewart said.
There’s also an element of urgency to their research.
“We don’t have a lot of time left to tell these stories when we have access to those primary sources,” Stewart said.
Kelsy Ketchum is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.