Shirley and Basil Christopoulos ’84 still get a little emotional remembering a man they met in France earlier this year.

The Oakland, California, couple and their friends met him by chance at Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France. It is the final resting place for more than 9,000 American soldiers who fought in World War II. The couple struck up a conversation with the visitor and soon noticed he was standing next to a grave marker that had a pebble at its base.

“I brought the stone from my garden at home,” the man explained. “This is my dad. I was five months in my mother’s womb when he died.”

The man’s story has stayed with the couple, even months later. “It really got me,” Shirley Christopoulos says. “I got choked up. This man had never met his father and finally got to stand at his grave for the first time. We shared that moment with him.”

Paying their respects and visiting places they had only seen in history books were just some of the unforgettable experiences in Europe for the couple. They had joined a 10-day Trojan Travel trip planned in collaboration with the National World War II Museum that followed the Allied Forces’ path from Rotterdam to Normandy, retracing the journey from early defeat to defining victory.

We joke that it’s been months since coming home. But every time people ask about the trip, we still get goosebumps talking about it.

Basil Christopoulos

“Trojan Travel looks to provide unique, engaging experiences that are tucked into the itineraries during our tours,” says Linda Ball, associate director at the USC Alumni Association. The trip was planned to put travelers in Normandy on June 6. That date marked the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, enabling visitors to join an international celebration that drew leaders from around the world.

“This was not a CliffsNotes version of a trip,” says Basil Christopoulos, a USC Marshall School of Business alumnus. “This was a full immersion. We were out all day, every day with expert guides at every location.” An after-dinner speaker series would recap everything they saw that day. Not only did they meet and get to know other Trojans, but the tour also brought together first-person voices from history. World War II veterans traveled with the group as special guests and quickly became travel buddies.

“Some were 95, but you would not believe how in shape and sharp and amazing they were,” Basil Christopoulos says.

Everywhere they went on the Trojan Travel trip, Shirley Christopoulos remembers, “locals would walk right up to these veterans and hug and kiss them. People would thank them and cry. … I can’t describe the feeling of seeing those emotional moments.”

Those poignant, unplanned connections are the ones that have left a lasting imprint on them. The Christopouloses tell their friends that the journey wasn’t just a vacation, but more like a discovery of the past — “a trip of learning, seeing and remembering history.” Before parting ways with their new veteran friends, the couple had asked how to best honor their generation’s sacrifices.

“One said, ‘Tell your children what happened here. So many [of us] didn’t want to talk about war when we went home. Tell our story so people still know,’ ” Shirley Christopoulos says. The couple has taken those words to heart.

“Next time, we want to go back with our kids and share what we learned and experienced on this trip,” she says. “I want to honor their stories.”

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