U.S. Army specialist Elliot Alagueuzian was not like his peers growing up in Palo Alto. When all the other 8-year-olds were playing sports, he was listening to his grandparents' stories about World War II.
"A lot of kids growing up ended up playing hockey, but I was always fascinated (with) World War II," Alagueuzian said.
He was specifically interested in Operation Overlord, more commonly known as D-Day, the historic World War II Allied invasion of the French beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Alagueuzian's grandparents fought in the invasion for the French resistance.
When his grandparents would drive past war memorials, placards and other commemorative monuments with him during his summer visits to France, Alagueuzian said he would take the opportunity to pick their brains about their experiences.
His paternal grandfather served in Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France in August 1944. His great-grandfather, who was a shoemaker by trade, served as a courier for the French resistance and transported information by hiding messages inside of shoes.
Alagueuzian's fascination and family ties to the war led him to the Army, which has afforded him the opportunity to serve as a translator for the World War II 75th commemorative anniversary celebrations currently taking place in France through Sunday.
The commemorative event involves the U.S. European Command and its allies in the northwestern region of France coming together to honor and thank veterans and their families for their service and sacrifices in the present and during World War II.
The event also aims to educate younger generations about the history of the military and the war.
Alagueuzian, a Gunn High graduate, said that representing France and America together is a dream come true.
"When you represent something bigger than yourself, such as the military ... you feel very accomplished because you represented something professionally and with honor," he said.
"It's just an incredible feeling ... once you get a taste of it you feel like you want to keep doing it," he added.
Alagueuzian said he first became interested in joining the military as a Gunn High School student when recruiters visited the campus. He even considered joining the U.S. Marine Corps after speaking with them, he said. But it wasn't until 2016, after earning a bachelor's degree in journalism and receiving a nudge from close friends, that he finally decided to enlist in the Army.
Since then, Alagueuzian said the experience has been extremely rewarding as he's been able to travel the world, work with people he respects and has learned valuable lessons throughout his journeys.
"You learn a lot about yourself, what you can do, how ambitious you want to be," Alagueuzian said. "I think it can make you go out in the world and be hungry for more knowledge."
Alagueuzian now serves as a specialist in the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado, where he helps higher-ranked officers achieve specific goals.
When his brigade commander, Col. Dave Zinn, was chosen to represent the division at the World War II commemorative ceremony in France, Alagueuzian figured he would need a translator and began to ask around to find out if anyone besides him spoke French.
Eventually, one of the commanding captains went to Alagueuzian's office and asked if he was "ready to go to France." At first, Alagueuzian said he thought it was a joke.
As it turned out, the higher ranked officers did need someone to translate for Zinn, and Alagueuzian was the chosen candidate.
About 80 ceremonies in 40 French communities in the region are set to take place through Sunday. Alagueuzian said he plans to pass down the tradition of sharing stories to his future grandchildren, just as his grandparents did, and this experience will be one of them.
According to Alagueuzian, these events are also important to help educate people about the war and the D-Day invasion to prevent history from repeating itself. "They (people) need to ask themselves what would have happened if we (the U.S.) lost the war," Alagueuzian said. "There's a lot that happened in the past that can't be forgotten because if it is, then it's going to happen again.
"We don't want it to happen again, we want people to keep living free," he added.