At the beginning, all Julia Brunson had was a name: Eugene Mlot. By the end of her experience, she had close friend from generations past that she’d never even met.
Earlier this year, Brunson, a student at Ronald Reagan College Preparatory High School, as well as Reagan teacher Margaret Holtgreive were one of just 15 student-teacher pairings selected by the Normandy Institute for an exceptional honor: to journey to both Washington D.C. and Normandy, France in order to research and give a eulogy for a fallen WWII soldier from her state. For her eulogy, Brunson selected Mlot, a Polish immigrant who lived in the Milwaukee’s Polonia neighborhood.
Brunson’s search for Mlot’s search took her from census records and local visits, to the National Archives in Washington D.C. where she found Mlot’s dog tags set aside for her by a volunteer researcher, to finally Normandy, where she walked the D-Day beaches and delivered Mlot’s eulogy at his grave at Normandy American Cemetery.
“Giving Eugene’s eulogy was perhaps the hardest thing I have ever done,” Brunson shared with PBS NewsHour. “My hands were shaking and I was so scared I would make a mistake or dishonor Eugene. Over the past year, I had grown so close to this man, my friend. I made jokes about his big ears and goofy smile and shared that moment with those gathered.”
Brunson shared her experience in her own words, as well as video of the eulogy she researched and wrote for Mlot, for PBS NewsHour. Brunson and Holtgreive also created a website to share and honor Mlot’s story, one Brunson notes, “I will never forget” – and one certainly worth checking out on this Veterans Day.