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'Thank you for saving our country and the world'

Staff Writer | December 8, 2010 8:00 PM


<p>Ed Nealand, a Pearl Harbor survivor, listens to accounts about the Dec. 7, 1941 attack read by students and staff at Lakes Magnet Middle School.</p>

COEUR d'ALENE - Brandon Hilding didn't know anything about Pearl Harbor or the generation of people who carried the United States through World War II.

He does now.

The 12-year-old Lakes Magnet Middle School student and his schoolmates worked for weeks to put together a two-hour all-school tribute to the "Greatest Generation."

They presented their efforts during an assembly Tuesday that was attended by more than 100 community members, many of them veterans who served in the armed forces during World War II.

"It's important to learn this. They took on a lot of responsibility," Brandon said.

Many of the lessons garnered by the middle school students did not come from books or the Internet.

They got their information straight from the mouths of those who lived through that time, who recall the events of Dec. 7, 1941.

"It was fabulous," said Ed Nealand following the program.

Nealand, an eyewitness to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was one of a handful of local residents interviewed by Lakes students for a video collage that was shown during the assembly.

He was on the heavy cruiser U.S.S. New Orleans just across the water from the U.S.S. Arizona during the attack.

Nealand, like many others stationed that day in the harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, had just finished eating breakfast when the Japanese strike began.

His voice breaks when he describes watching a motor launch carrying men across the water.

"All of a sudden their uniforms turned red, and they started jumping overboard. We laughed. We thought they were drunk," he said.

He and the rest of the sailors on his ship quickly realized that something terrible was happening.

Nealand was injured when he tried to jump from the ship to avoid bullets coming at him and landed on a lower deck.

One particular lesson students learned about overcoming racism came from Nealand.

He admitted to not liking the Japanese much after the war. He changed his thinking later when he owned a gas station and ended up employing several Japanese people who became close family friends.

Bud Kirchoff, prisoner of the Japanese from 1942 to 1945 and survivor of the Bataan Death March, also shared his story on the video.

"I thought it was very well put together," Kirchoff said after the assembly ended. "It was good for the kids. That's the most important thing."

The students did the jitterbug and the swing dance, they sang songs and played big band music from the '40s between the stories that were shared.

Many of the stories were not on video. They were presented by Lakes students and staff members, who retold the first-person recollections for the audience.

Dianne Wandrey's mother was 16 when she moved to Hawaii.

Wandrey, a Lakes teacher, spoke while an old film of young women hula dancing played behind her. Wandrey's mom performed the hula for sailors at USO shows.

In memory of her mother, she taught one of her classes, all girls, how to do the dance, and the group performed during the show.

At the end of the assembly students held up a banner they had all signed.

It read: "Thank you for saving our country and the world."

"The overall thought that comes to mind as I reflect on this project was that our entire school embraced this day and I can honestly say that, just like in WWII, we all pulled together and made a good thing happen," said Lakes teacher Robyn Palmer.

Dave Eubanks, another Lakes teacher and one of the main organizers of the event, said he enjoyed watching the 11- and 12-year-old students connect with the 80- and 90-year-olds.

"I think our kids learned to really appreciate what the Greatest Generation accomplished in the face of so much adversity and fear," Eubanks said.

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