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Van Hoosen teacher, student unearth history of Escanaba man killed during D-Day invasion

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published June 20, 2024


ROCHESTER HILLS — U.S. Navy seaman Auvergne Breault was just 20 when he was struck by a giant mortar that knocked him off his boat, leading to his drowning death, during the June 6, 1944, allied forces invasion of Normandy, France, known as D-Day.

Thanks to Van Hoosen Middle School social studies teacher Matt Cottone and a former student, Breault’s story will soon be recorded and saved at the very location where he gave his life for his country 80 years ago this week.

Cottone and Ian Smith, one of Cottone’s former students at Van Hoosen Middle School, are one of 15 teacher-student teams nationwide chosen for the Albert H. Normandy Institute fellowship. They were given a specific mission: Identify a Michigan soldier who fought and died on D-Day and is buried in Normandy.

Cottone and Smith, now a junior at Adams High School, are the only Michigan team in the program, which is run through George Washington University.

“This was a unique opportunity to truly take education outside the classroom to the very beaches of Normandy where so many brave Americans sacrificed their lives for the freedoms we and our allied partners enjoy every day,” Cottone said in a press release. “Ian was the perfect partner, and we got to work right away.”

Cottone and Smith next travel to Washington, D.C., to study first-hand experiences from World War II, and they leave for Normandy June 18.

Based on their research, Cottone and Smith will write and recite a eulogy for Breault in Normandy. A copy of the eulogy will be enshrined in the Normandy American Cemetery archives. Once stateside again, they will hand deliver a copy of the eulogy to Breault’s nieces in Escanaba.

“I consider this adventure the latest in my continued efforts to help my students understand the world is a much bigger place than just Rochester schools,” Cottone said in a press release. “It’s been a long and winding road, but one that has provided a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience for both me and Ian, and I can’t wait to share this experience with my students.”