History comes to Forest Lake Elementary School
Almost 400 years of experience were represented at Forest Lake Elementary School Thursday, March 31 as the students participated in a World War II Veteran Interview project, learning history lessons from “the horse’s mouth.”
Five WWII veterans from every branch of the military, along with three current military personnel from Fort Jackson, agreed to be interviewed, answering questions prepared by the students.
J.R. “Grandpa” Jones, Walter Robertson, Fred Kline, Bill Donahue, and K. C. Moore entertained and shared their stories, first hand accounts of the history of WWII.
In the 1940s these men, some only 17 years old, left their homes and families and within a few weeks were across the ocean fighting a war. They were allowed no contact with their loved ones while they were overseas, only being allowed to write letters that took weeks to arrive and had to go through the censoring boards. The final letter received by family and friends was a photocopy of the original with information censored out that could give any indication of where they were or what operation they were involved in. The current soldiers compared the limited contact with today’s access to cell phones, email, and video– chat available to them.
The veterans shared stories of sleeping in quonset huts, tents, out in the open, and aboard ship. Walter Robertson told students that while he was onboard a ship in the South China Sea, it was hot, the ship had no air conditioning and the “ hold” where the bunks were located was sweltering, so he and the other Marines in his unit chose to sleep on the open deck of the ship. The Navy personnel in charge of the ship had a strict policy of swabbing the decks, the “weathered decks,” that had received a crusting of salt and debris from the ocean. The Marines joked that the sailors were swabbing the “ leathernecks” instead because if they were asleep on deck, they got swabbed too.
Students asked about the food and were told the food was “pretty good” even the K–rations which consisted of hard crackers, hard chocolate, hard cheese. These kept them nourished, along with water with quinine added to prevent malaria. It tasted nasty.
There were discussions about weapons including machine guns, M– 1s, grenades, and shipboard cannons. Students learned about the cleanup operation after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan.
Roberts told about being on guard duty on Christmas Eve, surrounded by 1,800 sleeping soldiers on a ship in the South Pacific thousands of miles from his parents and seven brothers and sisters. He said he has never forgotten the feeling of loneliness and to this day always surrounds himself with his loved ones on Christmas Eve.
The common thread running through every story shared by these heroes of WWII was they were proud to serve their country and would do so again in an instant if called upon.