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World War II, Korean War vets bring 'living history' to students at Denver's South High School

Teacher: Lesson you can't learn from text book
Posted at 9:55 PM, Mar 08, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-08 23:57:28-05

DENVER -- With most World War II veterans well into their 90s, opportunities to hear their real-life stories are becoming rarer.

Students at South High School experienced that rare opportunity on Friday when three WWII vets, a Korean War vet and the wife of a WWII vet took part in a "living history" lesson.

"We're just trying to bring history alive," said history teacher Kate Jones.

One of the veterans, Herman Moll, was on board the U.S.S. Birmingham during the battle of Leyte Gulf.

He said the crew on that water tender was trying to extinguish a fire on the U.S.S. Princeton, an aircraft carrier that had been struck by a bomb.

"We were 50 feet away when it blew up," he said.

The force of the explosion knocked him unconscious and killed 242 men aboard his ship.

When he regained consciousness, four dead crew members were on top of him.

He said the experience still affects him to this day.

"You still get startled," the 93-year old said. "You can't sleep nights, and you get bad dreams."

Korean War vet Al Binford specialized as a cryptographer.

He told students that he had top secret clearance when he was in the war because he ran state of the art code machines.

Denver native Walter Ordelheide attended South High School. He enlisted in the Navy in 1943 and served in the Medical Corps.

Ordelheide said his experience left him with a distaste for all war machines - ships, subs, airplanes and guns of every kind.

After the war, he, his wife, and their children served as missionaries in Asia.

Francis Shedd also enlisted in the Navy in 1943 and was sent to Cornell University in New York for diesel training.

When the atom bomb was dropped, his LSM (Landing Ship Medium) was ordered to deliver earth moving equipment to Okinawa.

Roberta Stoddard's husband, Lee, was on the U.S.S Nevada, which was moored next to the U.S.S. Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Arizona blew up and went to the bottom of the sea.

"We were married almost 60 years and he never talked about it," Stoddard said.

In 1991, she suggested that they take their daughters to Pearl Harbor for the 50th-anniversary observance of the attack.

"I can still remember the look [on his face]," she said. "He asked, 'why?'"

She told him it would be a good history lesson and said they went to Hawaii and were all glad they did. She said 300 other veterans did the same thing.

"They saluted the flag, and you would have thought they were 16 years old," she said. "They carried their canes and walkers."

Questions about the A-bomb

One student asked the vets what they thought about the use of the atomic bomb.

Mr. Shedd replied, "If it hadn't been for the bomb, I wouldn't be here."

He said countless other lives would have been lost had the U.S. been forced to invade mainland Japan itself.

Shedd then turned that question around and asked how many students thought the bomb should not have been dropped.

Several raised their hands.

Sophomore Michael Borne hesitated.

"My opinion before was that the atomic bomb was not justified, that we could have found another way," Borne said.

The teenager added that there was something in Shedd's voice that made him have second thoughts.

"How the war was probably going to go on; how they were probably still going to get slaughtered," he said. "That got me thinking that this was definitely for people's lives."

The exchange gave Borne's history teacher goosebumps.

"It's what we're trying to do every day," Jones said. "We're trying to complicate things for students, so they ask those hard questions and dig deep. I think when a student says they want to re-write their paper now, with new information, that's the dream of every educator."

Jones added that the living history lesson is something you can't learn from a textbook.