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Pearl Harbor must be remembered

by Merrie Leininger, Staff Writer

Elaine Toth hopes that parents will spend this Thursday, the 59th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, talking to their children about their past.

“People don’t take the time to share those stories with their children,” said Toth, who teaches art, English and drama at Carson Valley Middle School. “I did grow up with a sense of history. A lot of my students don’t even know where their parents were born. They don’t have a connection between the past and the present. They don’t understand why things are the way they are now.”

Toth said it is important to continue oral story-telling traditions before they are lost. She grew up during the Cold War with parents who were both in the Navy. Her father, Bill Roney, was at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, as a Navy pilot, but he did not like to tell the children a lot about his experiences.

“He would talk about it periodically, but he was always guarded. He didn’t want us to feel like it was a glorified experience,” Toth said. “It made me make a connection with the past. Both my parents worked on rockets. War-oriented things were a natural part of my environment. There was always a sense of urgency. But I knew why we were doing some of the things we were doing.”

Toth explained that at the time, the memory of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor had not faded and there was a need by Americans to always be prepared to defend the country.

“It wasn’t as if we were super war conscious, but we were self-protection conscious,” she said. “The Navy’s slogan was ‘Remember Pearl Harbor; Keep America Alert.’ There was this imminent threat out there. The Cuban missile crisis happened when I was in high school. We always had extra water, matches and food on hand. Because I understood about the past, it tended to make me understand the present a little better.”

– Pearl Harbor. Bill Roney, who lives in Gardnerville now with his wife, was 18 years old when he was standing watch at the naval air station and saw the first wave of Japanese planes come in.

He told his story to Toth’s history class in 1991, and Toth captured it on videotape.

Roney, who grew up in Ely, told his daughter that being stationed at Hawaii was like a vacation before the bombing. He was there with two of his childhood friends. Photographs from that time show the young men with big smiles, climbing palm trees and sight-seeing.

While on duty the day of the attack, he saw the Japanese planes coming in and saw the first bombs drop, but didn’t understand what was happening until a Japanese pilot flew slow and low directly above him. Roney told Toth’s class that he could clearly see the pilot, who was wearing a red headband, and he waved at the pilot. The pilot smiled and waved back, then moved the wings so Roney saw the Japanese flag.

Roney described a sense of chaos and confusion among the soldiers during the attack.

Roney said he and other men attempted to push the float planes away from each other as they caught on fire. He said the soldiers had guns, but no ammunition, so some men had to climb onto a burning plane to pull out a gun.

The idea of being prepared for the unforeseen stayed with her father’s generation and her generation, but is being lost now, as are the stories of the men and women who served in World War II, she said.

Another man who also spoke to Toth’s class in 1991 has Alzheimer’s disease now and can no longer relate how he escaped from a sinking ship by pulling himself through a porthole.

“It is a classic example of how we need to preserve the stories and share them. Everyone has a different story. I would encourage kids to talk to their parents and grandparents,” she said. “Find out about life at that time. Talk to your children, no matter if it is something as crucial as World War II or something as small as ‘I saw the president when I was 13.'”