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Dahna Lee, Venado Middle School, Irvine, CA

A Reason to Lead

On the morning of December 7, 1941, at an hour when many of the American soldiers stationed at Pearl Harbor were still sound asleep, Everett Hyland was standing on the deck of the USS Pennsylvania, when a 500-lb. bomb appeared out of nowhere and struck the ship. The bomb exploded not far from Hyland, throwing him into the air and slamming him face-first into the ground. His hands and face were severely burned as he lay sprawled on the flaming deck. Yet, compared to the other members of the squad, he was fortunate - he was alive.

In less than three hours, 2,403 members of the U.S. Pacific Fleet perished under an onslaught of bombs and torpedoes. 347 planes and 18 ships were either destroyed or badly damaged. Without a doubt, the losses suffered by our country that day were colossal and tragic. Pearl Harbor should be remembered simply to celebrate the lives of those young men who died that day. But the significance of December 7th is not just a result of the number of casualties. A greater number of people died in the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, yet that event does not define us and our history as Pearl Harbor does.

The difference is that Pearl Harbor was not an accident. It was an attack. We remember Pearl Harbor today because it took place during World War II, perhaps the most monumental struggle for humanity in world history. Moreover, it was a moment that drastically altered not only the direction of the war, but possibly also its outcome. At that point in the war, Germany had already taken France and was on the verge of conquering all of Europe. We all know what Hitler and the Axis powers were capable of doing. If Pearl Harbor had not compelled the U.S. to take on a larger role in the military effort, not only Europe, but the entire world may be less free today.

Thankfully, the U.S. did step in and the war ultimately ended in favor of the Allies. But the impact of Pearl Harbor extended beyond the war. For the first few years of the war, Americans were reluctant to commit militarily to what they thought was the problems of other countries. Pearl Harbor was the point at which the U.S. realized that it was no longer possible to draw a line between itself and the rest of the world, and that it had to take the lead on world affairs. It took thousands of young American lives to jolt the country into action, but since then the U.S. has been a force for change in the world. It has made its share of mistakes, but still the U.S. has been a positive example for emerging democracies across the globe. Our country, for a long time, had the potential to be the greatest nation on earth. Pearl Harbor was the moment when that potential was realized.


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Student Travel – WWII Educational Tours
High school and college students, learn the leadership principles that helped win WWII on a trip to France or during a weeklong residential program in New Orleans. College credit is available, and space is limited.

See You Next Year! HS Yearbooks from WWII
Collected from across the United States, the words and pictures of these yearbooks present a new opportunity to experience the many challenges, setbacks and triumphs of the war through the eyes of America’s youth.

The Victory Gardens of WWII
Visit the Classroom Victory Garden Project website to learn about food production during WWII, find lesson plans and activities for elementary students, get tips for starting your own garden and try out simple Victory Garden recipes!

The Science and Technology of WWII
Visit our new interactive website to learn about wartime technical and scientific advances that forever changed our world. Incorporates STEM principles to use in the classroom.

Kids Corner: Fun and Games!
Make your own propaganda posters, test your memory, solve puzzles and more! Learn about World War II and have fun at the same time.

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