Irvine teen, teacher to honor D-Day ‘silent hero’ whose story hasn’t been told

Sonia Kelly and her history teacher, Judy Richonne, will spend the next four months doing research on an obscure American paratrooper who died on the first day of the Normandy invasion.

In June, the University High School duo will visit Tony Burnett Jr.’s grave in France to deliver a eulogy and honor the World War II soldier whose story hasn’t been told.

“This person that we’ve chosen, we know nothing about him now, but in five months he’s going to be someone that I could think of as a friend or someone that I know as well as people that are in my life,” Kelly, 16, said.

Kelly and Richonne are one of the 15 student-teacher pairs in the nation, and the only one from California, selected to participate in this year’s Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom Albert H. Small Student and Teacher Institute.

The program, by Maryland-based nonprofit group National History Day, is intended to teach a new generation about the sacrifices and challenges faced during World War II.

After taking an online class about the Normandy invasion, the participants will meet in Washington, D.C., in June to finish the research about their chosen “silent heroes” with help from historians and college professors.

Then the groups will travel to France and walk in the footsteps of history. They will visit the D-Day beaches, museums and historic sites such as churches that were used as field hospitals.

On the last day, the students will present eulogies at the graves of their heroes at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. Teachers and students will also build a memorial web page about their fallen servicemen.

Kelly, a junior, approached Richonne in September about applying together for the Normandy program. They were chosen out of 83 applicants, said Richonne, who applied to the nationwide program three years ago but didn’t get in.

Kelly said the program combines two things she loves: history and traveling.

Kelly went to southern Spain last summer for a…

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