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Pearls of wisdom

Staff Writer | December 5, 2010 8:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - Never forget what happened.

That is a lesson Bud Kirchoff, a 91-year-old World War II veteran who lives in Kootenai County, believes younger Americans should learn from the experiences of his generation.

Kirchoff's story of survival as a prisoner of the Japanese from 1942 to 1945 will be part of a Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day event Tuesday at Lakes Magnet Middle School.

"If we forget history, we're fated to repeat it," Kirchoff said during one of many interviews conducted during the past month by Lakes staff and students in preparation for the 69th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Tuesday's program is free and open to the public. It begins at 8 a.m. at the middle school, 930 N. 15th St.

The event will pay tribute to the local men and women belonging to the "Greatest Generation," a term journalist Tom Brokaw coined in his 1998 book of the same name. They grew up during the Great Depression and came of age during World War II, many of them fighting in the military, the rest at home supporting the war effort through hard work and endurance.

"It is a generation that, by and large, made no demands of homage from those who followed and prospered economically, politically, and culturally because of its sacrifices," Brokaw wrote. "It is a generation of towering achievement and modest demeanor, a legacy of their formative years when they were participants in and witness to sacrifices of the highest order."

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a defining moment for the nation and that generation. It signaled the United States' entry into the world war.

The Lakes middle school program has captured the voices of local men and women who recall the events of Dec. 7, 1941, and the years before and after.

Kirchoff was serving with a U.S. Army tank company in the Phillipines at the time.

"We were bombed just about an hour after Pearl Harbor," he said.

The attack was less extensive, he recalls, but just as deadly.

"It blew all our planes off the field," he said.

When the United States surrendered the Phillipines to the Japanese in 1942, Kirchoff survived the Bataan Death March, and was then subjected to several years of work in Japanese mines.

He was just 40 miles from Nagasaki when the second atomic bomb was dropped.

The sacrifices of Americans back in the states were great as well.

Pat Lund was 9 years old on Dec. 7, 1941.

He recalls laying on the floor in a room in Spokane playing marbles and listening to Gene Autry on the radio as his grandfather sat nearby.

"They broke in during the radio show and announced that Pearl Harbor had been attacked," Lund said.

Lund's father was serving in the Phillipines at the time, and he remembers his grandfather breaking into tears upon hearing the news.

"I kept playing marbles," he said.

At 9, Lund said the extent of what was happening didn't quite register with him right away.

Later, while living with his mother and sister in California, he felt his own personal loss - how lonely it was without his father.

Lund recalls supporting the war effort as an elementary school student: buying war bonds, collecting aluminum, rubber bands and grease.

They traded grease, he said, for food stamps to buy meat and sugar, but those items were usually hard to come by.

"We ate a lot of rabbit," he said.

Ed Nealand was on the USS New Orleans, a heavy Navy cruiser docked in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, not far from the USS Arizona.

He heard the machine gun fire, the chaos: "It was almost like sitting here, and all of a sudden this whole building is blowing up and you're not expecting it."

Nealand ran to his position when he saw "red things" coming at him. They were tracer bullets.

He made a split-second decision to try to jump from the ship, but landed on the deck below.

Injuries to his back, neck and legs didn't stop Nealand from crawling around until he found a machine gun and used it. He had never operated a machine gun before that day.

Nealand believes his generation's status as the "greatest" stems from what they accomplished, saving the U.S. from the tyranny of its World War II enemies.

There are a host of other local members of that generation who have shared their memories with the students at Lakes Middle School, and their stories will be told during the event on Tuesday.

"It's going to be sensational," said Lakes teacher Dave Eubanks.

Capturing their recollections is important, said Eubanks, because the number of living members of the "Greatest Generation" is dwindling.

"This is one of the last opportunities for us to do this," he said.

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