Miniature Model Of Pearl Harbor Teaches Big Lessons

Mount Airy Middle Students Present Product Of 100 Hours Of Labor

December 08, 1991|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff writer

MOUNT AIRY — Standing over a miniature model of Pearl Harbor, Representative Beverly B. Byron plays history teacher, firing questions at students likea ship launching torpedoes.

Does anybody know how many ships werein the harbor?

Do you know where the submarine base is?

Do you know how many submarines went out?

Do you know how many ships were sunk?

There is a pause. A student points out the submarine base, among the locations highlighted on a sheet of plywood -- painted green for places like Ford Island and Pearl City and blue for Alea Bay and the South East Lock.

Boat-shaped pieces of wood mark the battleships Arizona, California, Nevada, Oklahoma and Maryland. The Stars and Stripes flies atop the sunken Arizona and the Utah, the two warships where men remain entombed.

Someone hazards a guess at the number of ships sunk.

The other questions about Dec. 7, 1941 bring silence.

"You'regoing to have to do a little more research to answer my questions," suggests Byron, a Democrat who represents the 6th District.

Byron is not at Mount Airy Middle School to chastise, though. She is there to congratulate the six students on a job well done. By researching Pearl Harbor, she said, they've learned map-making, craft-building andhistory.

"You'll have a leg up on a lot of kids when we talk about Pearl Harbor and World War II over the next four years," she said. "A lot of people say we don't have good World War II units in our books."

That is something these seventh- and eighth-grade students wouldn't know. They will not turn the pages of World War II history until high school.

Some of the students said they had no idea where Pearl Harbor was until they started working on the project several weeks ago. They associated Pearl Harbor with places like Korea or New York.

"I had no idea where it was," said eighth-grader Ben Little.

That fact didn't bother Charles R. Etzler, a retired Army colonel who was stationed at Schofield Barracks during the attack.

"There was . . . a lot of people at the time that didn't know where Pearl Harbor was," said Etzler, 79, who will be one of two veterans of American Legion Post 191 of Mount Airy honored in a ceremony today.

The Woodbine resident said the hands-on project went a long way in teaching the students about the day that will live in infamy.

"They were learning and probably didn't even realize they were learning," said Etzler, who retired from the Army in 1966. "It gave them a chance to look backward and gain a little bit of knowledge -- knowledge they'll be able to tie to other events as they hear people talk about the war."

The Mount Airy Kiwanis Club approached the students about doingthe relief map and provided $100 for materials. The students, who spent about 100 hours on the model, presented their work to the Legion post Wednesday.

"I thought it would be an excellent education project for the kids," said Tom McLellan, a member of both the Kiwanis and American Legion organizations. "Both my children have visited the (Arizona) Memorial and were moved by it. It's a very emotional thing."

McLellan, an avid World War II buff whose father was stationed atPearl Harbor during the attack, said the event was a significant turning point "not just as far as the war, but socially -- in the structure of the country."

"I want students to remember this," said McLellan, 51, whose 13-year-old son, Shaun, was among the students who built the model.

Paul Engle, a U.S. history and world cultures teacher at the school, said by researching Pearl Harbor through books and videos, the students gained a greater awareness of the event's importance. Beforehand, their knowledge, if any, of Pearl Harbor was limited, he said.

"I think they understand the sacrifices people made," Engle said. "Now as they're presenting the project to the community and speaking to veterans, its meaning is sinking in."

Arthur J. Brett, commander of the American Legion post, welcomed the project and commended the students for their efforts.

"I think they learned a lot of history in doing research like this," he said. "It's not ancient history. It's something that happened not too long ago. I hope thatthis will show people that you can never be unprepared.

"Eternal vigilance, as they say, is the price of freedom," he added.

That message was not lost on the students.

"By learning about what happened, we now understand how important it is to keep our defenses strong in order that the

world can remain at peace for generations to come," said 13-year-old Joe Stevens, reciting a prepared speech for the model presentation.

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