Los Alamitos American Legion brings war history to life

Students from three area schools experienced living history at “Walking Thru Wars,” an inaugural event where they listened to first-hand accounts of the country’s wars and conflicts, sponsored by the American Red Cross at the American Legion, Post 716 in Los Alamitos on Sunday.

“We’re hoping the students gather information on what war is really like and pass the history on,” said Mike Farrar, Director of the Veteran’s History Project with the American Red Cross who interviewed more than 300 veterans. “It’s so very important to get their history now, as we are losing World War II veterans at a rate of 1,500 a day. The more we teach students now, the more likely they will carry it on for future generations.”

The students went from one veteran to another, listening attentively to their stories from the various countries where they served.  Benjamin Holguin, 18, from Western High School in Anaheim and the American Legion Boys State 2012 representative said he came to hear first-hand experiences from WWII.  Sara Salinas, 17, from Western High School and American Legion’s Girls State 2013 representative came to learn more about the American Legion, while American Legion’s Boys State 2013 representative, Israel Reyes, 16, also from Western High School, wanted to hear how the veterans experienced war. Reyes’s younger sister, Abigail, 15, from Western High School as well, wanted to know what it’s like to be far away from families and how war changes those who serve.

Pearl Harbor World War II veteran, Howard Bender, 91, of Mission Viejo came to give a one-on-one account to the students, passing the legacy of freedom and liberty on to the future generations. He is a part of the Freedom Committee of Orange County (FCOC), a non-profit which shares the military stories and experiences directly from those who have lived it. Bender served in WWII Pacific Theater as a chief yeoman in the Navy in campaigns at Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal and the Soloman Islands.

Another Pearl Harbor survivor, Jack R. Hammett, who is also a part of FCOC, has spoken to more than 70,000 students in the last two years.  “We bring living history of combat to the classroom,” he said. Hammet served in the Navy as a warrant officer on hospital corps/ships and stations.  He was also involved with D-Day Casualty Care, the 82nd Airborne, campaigns in North Africa and North Atlantic as well as serving as a Navy corpsman in Korea with the Marines.

“I want to tell the students about my experiences from boot camp to serving in the military,” said Craig Hanson, who was a scout sniper in the Vietnam War with the Marines from 1969 to 1972. “I want to tell them how it will change their lives forever.” He also said “that preserving freedom is not free, and how it’s a nasty business but that someone has to guard and fight for it.”

After the students’ interviews, Israel Reyes said he learned how Pearl Harbor was a very hard day and how people were just struggling to stay alive.  “I’m thankful for their lives and service,” he said. “I’m glad the veterans are still around and grateful we get to know them.

“We don’t look at ourselves as heroes,” said Jim Lee, 91, a Pearl Harbor World War II veteran. “We did what we had to do.”

For more information on the American Red Cross Veterans History Project, please call Mike Farrar at 562-6341 extension 245 or visit online at www.redcrosslb.org. For more information on the Freedom Committee of Orange County visit online at www.fc-oc.org.