Pearl Harbor veteran talks to 5th graders
At the same grade school he attended 70 years ago, Nevada Sen. Lawrence Jacobsen spoke to fifth-graders in his daughter-in-law’s class Monday about his experiences at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Teacher Robbi Jacobsen has been inviting her father-in-law to speak to her students at Gardnerville Elementary School since 1991, she said, in order to give the children a better appreciation for the veterans of World War II.
“Teaching about World War II has to do more with learning and appreciating that we owe a generation of Americans – who expect nothing – our recognition and our gratitude,” Robbi Jacobsen said. “I also feel there are so many WWII veterans that are still alive. If, through some small effort, I can teach (students) and make them aware, that’s the least I can do.”
The students have been learning about the war up to the point the United States was brought into it with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
The 78-year-old Jacobsen told the students Monday that he attended class in the old Gardnerville Elementary School brick building and graduated from Douglas County High School in 1939.
He decided he didn’t want to be a farmer and joined the Navy after graduation.
The 20-year-old Jacobsen was stationed at the base in Pearl Harbor. The morning of the bombing, he was just back from church.
One student, Cody Crosetti, with a visiting group from teacher Kitty Murphy’s class, asked about the atmosphere when the bombing started.
“How loud was it when they first dropped the bombs?” he asked.
“You can’t imagine,” Jacobsen said. “There was so much confusion and fire. We ran for the nearest building that was made out of cement because we thought it would be safe.”
Jacobsen said his job was airplane mechanic, and both before and after the attack, he would fly in a two-seater with a pilot as the planes and carriers traveled in a 100-mile triangle to “see what was out there in the ocean.”
n Lessons learned
Jacobsen told the children if he could leave them with any message, it would be “you cannot learn if you don’t pay attention.”
Jacobsen said the reason U.S. troops at Pearl Harbor were caught off-guard is because signs of the impending attack were ignored. He said Japanese spies in fishing boats were ignored on their scouting expeditions while they freely passed along information about American positions.
Jacobsen also wanted the students to have an appreciation for their freedoms, which he said are often taken for granted.
“Not every child, not every adult has the same kind of freedom we do. You have the freedom to be whatever you want to be. It’s not as important to young people as it should be,” he said.
The students obviously had been following up on their lessons at home by talking to their grandparents and great-grandparents.
Ashley Irvine from Murphy’s class brought in a marker bomb that was used for target practice during the war and said her grandfather had a friend who died in the war.
Jacobsen said many veterans don’t like to talk about their experiences in the war because they lost close friends.
“It’s part of the heritage that comes with it. I hope more servicemen would (talk publicly about their experiences). One of the failures of the education system, I think, is the students are taught Greek and Roman history and are not taught our own,” he said.
Jacobsen showed students pictures of the Pearl Harbor Memorial, which was built on the artificial reef of the USS Arizona that was sunk Dec. 7, 1941.
He told the students, in addition to the more than 2,300 dead and 2,500 wounded, the service men had to sit helplessly as they listened to trapped sailors tapping on the side of the Arizona days after it capsized.
“How come nobody got to help the people that were tapping?” Rosa Gomez asked the senator.
“The ship was already capsized and it was like a five-story hotel. They felt if they cut a hole in it, the people inside would drown before they could even get to them,” Jacobsen told her. “So you can see it was a real disaster and it was because we weren’t prepared.”
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