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War veterans share living history with students

March 16, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
It's not every day that high school students get a chance to sit face-to-face and talk world history with a war veteran. But one high school in Riverside is making it an annual tradition.

At Martin Luther King High School, veterans from all branches of the military packed the gym on Friday to help with a history lesson.

"You can look in a textbook, you can listen to a lecture, but it's not the same as talking to somebody who was really, really there," said John Corona, a U.S. history teacher.

Twelve years ago Corona told his class to interview a veteran of either World War II or the Korean War as a homework assignment. But after his students came up short on interviews, Corona went out and recruited veterans to speak to his class, and "King High Remembers" was born.

The oral history program gives student in their junior year a chance to sit face to face with veterans and learn from their stories.

"It takes a lot out of the classroom and adds a lot more to it, so it makes it more interesting," said student Jared Williams. "Because usually you have certain things and he is just adding more and more to it."

Retired LAPD Officer Michael Simonsen is used to talking to children and young adults about their safety with the help of his parrot, "Officer Bird." But Friday he was present to talk about his service during the Vietnam War.

"Hopefully give inspiration to these young adults if they want to get into the service to actually fight for our country and work for our country, and things like that. It's just an honor to be here," said Simonsen.

The project can be an emotional journey for the veterans sharing their stories and the students hearing them.

Last year, senior Jessica Sarawasee spoke to a Navy veteran who shared with her a memory of a calm sea during war.

"He was talking about his mother, and how he felt like his mother spoke to him," said Sarawasee. "It was very deep -- it's getting to me right now."

Following the interviews with their vets, students will present an essay, DVD documentary or PowerPoint presentation on what they learned during their three-hour conversations with living history.

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