HANCOCK COUNTY — On Friday, when the world will recognize the 70th anniversary of D-Day, Sarah Brown will be contemplating her own special connection to the historic invasion that turned the tide of World War II.
Brown, a 2010 graduate of New Palestine High School, is entering the Navy out of college at Miami University in Ohio. She recently was commissioned as an officer and has been assigned to duty aboard the USS Normandy, a guided missile cruiser named for the invasion battlefield in France. She will report for duty on the Normandy in mid-July at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.
Brown, 22, is well-aware of the significance of her ship’s name.
“I’m really honored to be with a ship that has such a revered namesake,” Brown said. “I feel really honored that I got my selection that I picked as my first option.”
The USS Normandy, which entered active duty in December 1989, figured prominently in the 50th-anniversary commemoration of the Normandy invasion in June 1994. Nine World War II veterans embarked aboard the ship for ceremonies in England and France as the vessel plied the same waters as the Allied invasion armada had 50 years earlier. The ship received the Navy Unit Commendations for its duty in 1994, according to its website.
Brown’s thoughts on the anniversary of D-Day will be with the military heroes and families of those who were there and the men and women who are their successors in service to their country.
“I wish I could be there with my ship this Friday,” Brown said. “I’m going to be going to the Warbirds Museum in (Batavia) Ohio, where they are going to have a celebration there as well.”
Brown is in Oxford, Ohio, where she just graduated with a major in Chinese and a minor in naval science. She’s wrapping up loose ends before starting her five-year stint as an officer.
“Four years ago, I told Sarah that the U.S. military officers are regarded as the finest leaders in the country,” said her father, Sam Brown. “It seems surreal that she is now part of this select group.”
Not unlike the many soldiers who signed up to fight in World War II, Brown said she developed strong patriotic beliefs after writing a speech about patriotism while she was in high school at New Palestine.
After doing research for the speech during a high school class, Brown said she became interested in the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps and applied for and received a four-year, full-tuition scholarship with a monthly stipend.
“I was very, very unsure about it at first, and I wasn’t completely sold on it, until halfway through my junior year,” she said. “It was difficult, and I wasn’t sure that it was what I wanted for my career, but I adapted and overcame, and now I love it.”
What she liked most about her preparation for the military was that it required her to get outside of her comfort zone of high school theater and music performances and forced her to take calculus and physics classes along with developing a completely different mindset.
“It pushed me to do some things that I never thought were possible for myself,” she said. “It’s been a process with occasional whirlwind moments. There have been ups and downs... I feel like such a different person from when I first started. My skills and professionalism and time management are infinitely higher than when I started college.”
Brown, whose rank will be ensign, will spend the first two years of her assignment on board the USS Normandy. She hopes to enroll in the Navy’s Chinese language immersion program after she completes the second year of shipboard duty.
“I really hope to take the defense language test when I get to my station in Norfolk,” Brown said. “If I get a certain qualification on my test, I will be eligible for a bonus pay for certain regions, so I’m hoping to keep studying and score high on that test.”
Now that she’s officially been commissioned and is just weeks away from duty, she admits there will be some nerves serving her country as a woman in a male-dominated profession.
“I am a little nervous, but I suppose I am used to it at this point,” she said. “The guy-to-girl ratio in the ROTC is pretty similar to what it is in the real military.”
While she knows it is not a path many women will take, it’s a road she said she’s supposed to be on.
“The Navy is a cool career,” Brown said. “You can do unique things, but you can also find time to do things you really want to do. You are on duty 24/7, but you do have time for yourself.”
She will not take her duty lightly.
“I’m honored about being in the Navy,” she said. “I take it very seriously.”
When Brown toured the USS Normandy, and then was commissioned in mid-May, her military career became real for her.
“It didn’t really strike me that ‘man, I am going to be an officer,’ until I went to my ship,” she said. “It was very tangible at that moment ... I’m really honored to serve.”