This group of kids will never forget the experiences shared with them Friday morning. Four World War II vets gave their firsthand accounts of what life was like in the U.S. Navy and during war time, and answered student questions at Hornell High School in Hornell, N.Y.
This group of kids will never forget the experiences shared with them Friday morning.
Four World War II vets gave their firsthand accounts of what life was like in the U.S. Navy and during war time, and answered student questions at Hornell High School.
Richard Kerr, 82, a former armed guard, and Bill Wheeler, 81, a former seaman, both of Canisteo; Bob Tripp, 82, a former machinist mate of Hornell; and Jack Howe, 85, an ex-visual signalman of Arkport entertained more than 100 students and more than a dozen teachers and faculty members in the high school?library as they talked about what WWII was like and amused students with tales of disciplined service life.
Several questions focused on the dropping of the atomic bomb. The men didn’t shy away from expressing their support for President Harry Truman’s decision and the circumstances that led to the event.
“It was a terrible thing, and a lot of people lost their lives in Japan, but by the same token, it saved a lot of lives really,” Howe said. He said the Japanese were ready for war.
“I was on a ship that went into Tokyo Bay for the signing of the surrender ... the Seabees discovered, under houses along the coast of Japan, suicide boats. These suicide boats were 15-foot-long boats with 500 pound bombs in them. And they were going to ram our ships,” Tripp said.
He said he was part of Navy missions that took 4,800 boats out to sea to destroy them.
“Every Japanese person — man, woman and child — had a rifle, there were stacks of rifles higher than this high school in various different parts of Japan. The Japanese were well prepared for us ... Our president at the time made the correct decision. It was a sad decision, but it ended the war immediately,” Tripp said.
Wheeler told the audience his tour of duty was called short because of Truman’s decision.
Tripp said he was 60 or 70 miles away from where one of the bombs dropped, and he could hear the roar.
“I walked the streets of Nagasaki only 20 minutes after the bomb dropped,” Howe said.
Morgan Allison, a 10th-grade social studies teacher, brought five of her classes to the event.
“It’s a great experience for them. It takes it out of the textbook and it makes it real for them to actually talk to someone who was actually there and has stories about things that may seem boring in a book — it brings it to life," Allsion said.
She said the veterans were speaking to the students at the perfect time because they just finished studying Pearl Harbor.
The men experienced no loss of attention as they gave details about 150-foot Pacific typhoons, black volcanoes, ships that were destroyed in battle and kamikaze planes. Personal accounts of what the soldiers were doing during Pearl Harbor, conditions aboard Navy vessels and opinions on the image of American military were all subjects discussed by the veterans.
“It was interesting to hear their stories,” said 12th-grader Gary Ange.
He said he looks up to the veterans because of their service to the country.
“They had the courage to go out there and risk their lives and defend us against Nazis and other threats,” Ange said.
“I just want to say thank you for your service,” 10th-grader Eric Weyand said.
Howe was stationed on the USS Wasp and comes from a family with military background. He told the students he has a son who was a Marine in Vietnam and a grandson who is a two-time Iraq war veterans.
“I wanted the students to know the military doesn’t do things to harm people. It teaches responsibility and how to look out for yourself and how to depend on yourself,” Howe said.
Evening Tribune newspaper clippings from 1939, when the war broke out, were on hand for students to view, and the students baked “victory cake” — an eggless, milkless and butterless treat that was popular during that year — for the event.
This is the second year veterans have spoken to the high school students.
Allison said the school is trying to make the event an annual activity as long as the school can bring in veterans to speak every year.
The Evening Tribune