BEDFORD, Va. – Special education students at Franklin County High School soaked up the history at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford on Thursday. The field trip brought tears and memories for one student, Aaron Cole.
Aaron's grandfather, Richard "Dick" E. Cole, served during WWII and was part of the Doolittle Raid.
"My grandad used to fly. He got an airplane called B-25," said Aaron Cole, the 21-year-old student who has Down syndrome.
The associate director for programming and events, Maggie Hartley, said it was an important mission for morale after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
"It showed the Japanese, 'Hey, you may have knocked out our naval force, but we're coming for you,'" Hartley said.
Thursday's trip was not Aaron's first visit to the memorial, but this one held special meaning. It was his first time back since his grandfather died in April at 103 years old.
"Hearing him talk about his grandfather and just how proud he was of him, it really gives me hope that the next generation will continue on the legacy of the greatest generation," Hartley said.
Aaron even got to carry around a piece of his "pops" -- a leather jacket that belonged to Richard Cole during the raid. Aaron's teacher, Emily Messenger, said after Richard Cole's death, Aaron never really let his grief show until this trip when he visited a brick at the memorial dedicated to his grandfather.
"I was not expecting him to get so emotional at the brick," Messenger said. "Seeing his classmates hug him was very sweet."
Even though Richard Cole is gone, Aaron said his "pops" will always be close to his heart.
"I'm happy, but sad," Aaron said.