NORTH HAVEN — For 20 days, two town students were able to step back in time to 1917. The United States had entered World War I, Europe was divided and trench warfare was becoming popularized.
Luckily for Daniella Lebron of North Haven and Joseph Viski of Durham, they didn’t encounter any combat.
On behalf of the Connecticut State Library, and sponsored by the Connecticut Heritage Foundation, Lebron and Viski participated in the program titled “Digging Into History: World War I Trench Restoration in Seicheprey, France.” They worked alongside a group of peers repairing American trenches in France in order to maintain historical integrity of the site.
Lebron and Viski were two of 15 Connecticut students and 17 French students participating in the program.
“I certainly wished we could have stayed longer. There’s really so much cool stuff there,” said Viski. “I’m such a big history buff and there was so much to see. We found grenades and bullets...I found a bullet that hadn’t been fired but was hit with shrapnel so you could still see the gunpowder inside.”
Lebron said she had a wonderful time while in France.
“When we were in the trenches I was one of the main students pick-axing and shoveling the trenches,” she said. “We also helped with excavations and wall building.”
Lebron said the students’ days would start early in the morning, with the group on a bus prepared to leave for the trenches by 8 a.m.
They would work until noon, break for an hour lunch, and then hunker down for another few hours of work.
For Viski, one of the largest challenges came from trying to keep the trenches up to historical standards.
“Keeping it looking original was hard. You might be digging down and then dig up a large rock and then it isn’t the same as it was,” he said.
Lebron said she would become overwhelmed from some of the challenges she faced while abroad.
“There were lots of points where I felt overwhelmed from the language barrier and the labor,” she said. “But every problem that was faced, we overcame quickly.”
After returning from the trip, Viski took away a greater appreciation for teamwork.
“Teamwork is really important when you’re doing something like that. You can’t do your own thing because you’ll hold everyone else back,” he said. “Before, I liked to work on my own. I’m much more into group work now.”
Lebron felt more connected to what people her age went through, saying she had “a new understanding and appreciation of it.”
“These are real people who left their lives behind to fight in the war,” she said. “I want to encourage everyone to look into their past and see how things connect.”