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posted: 12/17/2012 5:00 AM

Editorial: Time is short for Pearl Harbor survivors to tell stories

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Another Pearl Harbor remembrance passed this month, and in ceremonies across the country, Americans honored those who were there.

They are men and women now in their 80s and 90s, who were witnesses to that fateful day, Dec. 7, 71 years ago.

But it's an exclusive fraternity that shrinks with each passing year. Fewer were alive to see this year's anniversary than a year ago; there will be fewer still next year. As veterans lamented in stories carried by the Daily Herald, it won't be long before all of those survivors -- all World War II vets for that matter -- will be gone, taking with them forever the firsthand accounts of what happened.

While they are still with us, we need to ensure their stories are told -- to students in classrooms, in tape-recorded interviews and in public ceremonies. This is an opportunity for a living history lesson that should not be missed.

Pearl Harbor survivors know what's at stake.

Some, like 92-year-old Joe Triolo of Waukegan, say they fear that many people, particularly schoolchildren, know little about the horrible event that launched the U.S. into World War II.

In our story, Triolo says that as the number of Pearl Harbor survivors dwindles, the public memorial ceremonies are becoming rarer. So, too, are the classroom visits veterans like Triolo once regularly made that helped teach kids about an important chapter in American history.

"If the kids come through school and never hear of it, it's gone. That's the key," he told the Daily Herald's Russell Lissau.

Everyone knows the challenges schools face.

State financial problems have caused deep cuts in aid to education and have squeezed local school budgets and programs. There is an emphasis on math and science and a need to boost test scores. Classrooms are large and technology is changing the way teachers teach.

Maybe part of the fallout is the temptation to read a history book to learn about Pearl Harbor instead of reaching out to a veteran to talk to a class.

We hope not.

Veterans' personal stories are at once fascinating, compelling and terrible. Above all, they are important eyewitness accounts that emphasize to students the reality of events that otherwise can seem as distant and impersonal as a television show or video game.

Many students will never see the Pearl Harbor Memorial in Hawaii, but they can hear the stories of that day told by people like Joe Triolo.

On this Dec. 7, salvage crews pulled a World War II era fighter plane from Lake Michigan, where it had rested since a training accident decades ago. It will be refurbished and someday put on display as a historical treasure.

We cannot do the same with the survivors of Pearl Harbor. We must hear their stories now.

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