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History graduate to speak at World War II conference in Washington, D.C.

Closeup of Alicia Callahan during a 2023 WSU Pullman Commencement Ceremony.
Alicia Callahan carried the College of Arts and Sciences gonfalon during the processional at all three spring commencement ceremonies at WSU Pullman in recognition of her outstanding record of academic excellence.

History scholar and 2023 WSU graduate Alicia Callahan’s Honors College thesis about the heroic efforts of World War II soldiers has drawn national attention, earning her a summer speaking engagement in Washington, D.C., and a trip to Normandy, France.

Callahan, who was honored as this year’s Department of History Outstanding Senior, will present her thesis about the U.S. Army’s heroic 6th Armored Division’s service at the Friends of the National World War II Memorial’s annual teachers conference in July. She is one of eight presenters selected to speak at the conference and the only presenter not already working in academia or a similar field. Her presentation will occur at the Military Women’s Memorial.

Callahan’s undergraduate research efforts also gained the attention of the Best Defense Foundation, a non-profit organization created in 2018 to honor and commemorate veterans, often returning them to battlefield sites. She has been invited by the foundation to join military veterans who survived the D-Day invasion in 1944 for a special week-long trip to Normandy, to mark the invasion’s 79th anniversary.

“It’s exciting. I’m honored,” said Callahan, who is from the rural central Washington community of Royal City and whose own great-grandfather fought in World War II. “I know it’s going to be emotional. Hearing their stories is going to bring me to tears.”

“I’m honored. I know it’s going to be emotional. Hearing their stories is going to bring me to tears.”

Alicia Callahan, history scholar and WSU graduate

Her interest in World War II in general and the 6th Armored Division in particular grew from the discovery of her great-grandfather Thomas Hackler’s diary. He served as an infantryman in the division, nicknamed “The Super Sixth,” but never spoke about his wartime sacrifices after returning home. The American tank division landed on the beaches of Normandy 42 days after the D-Day allied invasion of Europe and spent the next nine months in continuous frontline combat, eventually enabling the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald.

Her thesis, an extensive two-year research project entitled “The Super Sixth,” combines wartime history with social history to reflect how the soldiers remember themselves compared to common public history through historical works and interviews with their descendants. She wanted to honor the sacrifices that come with being soldiers and liberators by sharing their memories and memorabilia. 

Callahan was named to the WSU President’s List for five semesters and was bestowed the prestigious honor of carrying the College of Arts and Sciences gonfalon during the processional at all three spring commencement ceremonies at WSU Pullman in recognition of her outstanding record of academic excellence.

“Alicia is an extraordinary scholar,” wrote Associate Professor of History Raymond Sun in support of her Outstanding Senior nomination. “As one of our top history majors, she is helping to break gendered stereotypes about students in military and genocide history. And as a first-generation student, I believe that Alicia is especially motivated to take advantage of the opportunities provided by a college education, as evidenced by the rare joy and enthusiasm that she consistently shows for the process of learning.” 

Callahan is a recipient of WSU’s Academic Achievement Scholarship and a member of the Delta Gamma Sorority. The Honors College recently selected her thesis as WSU’s sole nomination for the National Collegiate Honors Council Portz Scholars Award. 

“The faculty at Washington State University has allowed me to pursue incredible opportunities, often times far beyond what I think I am capable of,” Callahan said, crediting Professor Sun for his advising on her thesis and helping gain attention to it. “I will present my research to renowned historians and teachers from around the nation to bring recognition to the men of the Super Sixth.” 

In the fall, Callahan will continue her academic career at Central Washington University, working toward a master’s degree in war and military history. 

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