Written by Amy Bradsher
A Senior Division Level NHD Teacher from North Carolina
Franklin Delano Roosevelt called December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy,” and for many years he was right. As time passed, however, and the brave men and women who fought at Pearl Harbor and in World War II are lost, we risk losing the memories and the truth of what really happened that day – and in the war as a whole.
That is only one reason why the Sacrifice for Freedom®: World War II in the Pacific Student & Teacher Institute, organized by National History Day and sponsored by the Pacific Historic Site Partners, is vitally important. As cliched as it sounds, participation in this program will change your life.
It certainly did for me.
Participants in the program, which are chosen from among applicants from around the world, consist of student-teacher teams. My daughter/ student Andi and I were part of the 2022 cohort, which began right after we signed the acceptance paperwork.
For a semester, the teams study the Pacific Theater from a variety of angles – from the history of the Hawaiian Islands and Imperial Japan to individual battles of World War II. The assignments are designed to teach the flow, motivations, and consequences of the war from historical military standpoints. Meanwhile, each team chooses a war hero from their own state who is either buried or memorialized in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific to study. Additional assignments walk the teams through learning this hero’s story and placing it in the larger context of the war. This expertly designed process brings a better understanding to both stories than anything I have ever experienced.
The highlight of the program, however, is traveling to Oahu over the summer to learn on site with the other teams, leadership from National History Day, and representatives from the Pacific Historic Site Partners. Getting to know the other students and teachers from around the world – because there were participants from across the continental US plus Guam, Hawaii, and Singapore in 2022 – was absolutely amazing. We cheered each other on through the week, we commiserated over travel issues and jet lag, and we shared teaching strategies. Getting to know the students was just as amazing – there’s the local who greeted us with products from his home, the historical re-enactor who jumps out of airplanes, the quiet girl from the Midwest who always had a smile on her face, and many more.
What bonded us, though, is the shared experience given to us by the generous sponsors of the program. We spent five days in Honolulu visiting major historic sites, getting behind-the-scenes tours, traveling on a charter bus, participating in special Hawaiian ceremonies of respect and honor, and eating local foods. We spent two full days at various sites in Pearl Harbor, and we even moved onto the USS Missouri and spent a night there. Mr. Neil Yamamoto, education outreach coordinator at the USS Missouri Memorial and storyteller extraordinaire, shared how the treaty that ended World War II was signed – on the spot where we sat – right there on the decks of the Mighty Mo.
Mr. Yamamoto was one of many people who gave generously of their time to show us Hawaiian aloha during our visit. Mr. Hinman gave us an excellent tour of the USS Bowfin, a submarine now stationed at Pearl Harbor, and his enthusiasm was contagious. Mr. Saito kicked off our first full day by leading us to the top of Le’ahi, also known as Diamond Head Crater, for amazing views of Honolulu. It felt like a dream as we were shown many of the best historical sites that Honolulu has to offer, all with knowledgeable guides and insider information.
The culmination of our trip came at the end of the week, however, when we traveled to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Under a large white tent, each student gave a eulogy s/he had written just for his/her own hero. With helicopters flying overhead and taps playing all around us, this experience drove home the impact of each hero’s sacrifice.
We all returned home, tired and a bit sunburned, but overflowing with exciting memories that are so strong they are difficult to describe. It’s hard to put into words what this experience has meant to us. Honolulu has been called ‘just another American city,’ but I disagree.
It was in Honolulu that I saw how, despite a World War and prior centuries of racial discrimination, people have learned to look beyond the past and live together in peace.
It was in Honolulu where I found people who were interested in talking story – not only in telling their own, but also in sincerely hearing yours.
It was in Honolulu where I found that people whose hearts are just as beautiful as the geography.
It was in Honolulu that I realized that while the Sacrifice for Freedom program appears to be about remembering the stories of World War II, it is really about so much more: it’s about how to move beyond the pain of war into the wonder of peace.
The Sacrifice for Freedom program is the brainchild of Dr. Cathy Gorn, the executive director of National History Day. With Dr. Gorn at the helm and Lynne O’Hara, NHD’s Director of Programs, serving as primary teacher, it is no surprise that the Sacrifice for Freedom program has the tightest lessons and most creative structure of any class I have taken. It is well worth applying – and if you are anything like me, even months after the program has ended, you will find yourself pondering war and peace, friendship and ohana, coconut trees and kahlua pork on a regular – and exciting – basis.
The research and work done about each Silent Hero from this program is published at the website https://nhdsilentheroes.org/. The website is being updated in the coming months, and when that is finished, the profiles from the 2022 cohort will be added. In the meantime, you can view many of the eulogies given on YouTube on the Pacific Historic Parks channel.