A history lesson online


POSTED: Monday, December 14, 2009

About 80 Japanese high school students began class yesterday chatting by video with two U.S. veterans who survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The survivors, 88 and 92, sat in a plain white room on Ford Island and shared their World War II experience with the 10th-graders in Nagoya, Japan.

“;This is a once-in-a-lifetime”; opportunity, said Daniel Martinez, park historian for the National Park Service. “;There's only a certain amount of time that we'll be able to do this.”;

The all-girl class at Kinjo Gakuin Senior High School was the first group of students in Japan to join the videoconference program, called Witness to History.

Over 10 years, Witness to History has reached more than 15,000 students in 180 schools across the world, including schools on the mainland, Italy, France and Australia. The program brings Pearl Harbor survivors into the classroom and teaches students about WWII history.

It is sponsored by the Navy and National Park Service and funded by the Arizona Memorial Museum Association.

The inaugural Japanese class had several bumps during the conference unrelated to the translation: The streaming video kept dropping out, the sound was delayed about five seconds, and the Honolulu survivors could not hear the students at times.

But Martinez said the Japanese teachers videotaped the interview and will be able to get more out of it when they go over it again.

And the National Park Service plans to open a new World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument and visitor center at the USS Arizona Memorial next year that will house a dedicated video teleconference room. The room will be available regularly for teleconferences instead of only when space is available.

Martinez said the Park Service also plans to tape the survivors' stories so the program can be continued after they are gone.

In the meantime, Sterling Cale, 88, delights in being a living WWII artifact.

“;We enjoy telling them all the things because we're giving them the actual experience of somebody that was there,”; said Cale, who was a pharmacist's mate at the Naval Hospital at Pearl Harbor.

He told the students how he saw the Japanese planes dive-bombing Pearl Harbor as he was getting off the night shift. He broke down the door to the armory and started handing out rifles and ammunition.

He later helped pick up 46 people in the water. Some were already dead, so he tied a rope to their legs and hauled them to shore.

When the students asked whether they felt like heroes, survivor Herb Weatherwax, who witnessed the attack from Schofield Barracks, said, “;I don't see myself as a hero. All the heroes are dead now.”;

Students asked several questions and one made a comment.

“;I appreciate your stories as survivors of Pearl Harbor,”; said Akiko Fujimoto. “;This is a good opportunity for us to think about what war is and what peace means. We hope we will be able to continue the good relationship between Japan and the USA.”;