High school history buffs impress forum in Pearl Harbor

Three Fruita Monument High School students arrive Sunday at Grand Junction Regional Airport after a 10-day trip to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where they presented a program at a history conference honoring the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II. From left are Garrett Wachtel, Ben Smith and Ty Leech.

What did Jimmy Stewart, Eddie Albert and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. all have in common?

The movie stars all served in World War II. Keeping the history alive about celebrities who ducked from the spotlight to contribute to the war effort was the task of three Fruita Monument High School students. They spoke last week during a history conference in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The boys, sophomore Ty Leech, junior Garrett Wachtel and senior Ben Smith, were the only high school students chosen as presenters at the Battleship Missouri Memorial History Conference.

The “Lessons of War and Peace” forum, which attracted history scholars, history buffs, military veterans and students, honored the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II.

“For me it was mainly bringing back all these stories that you don’t read in a textbook,” Leech said.

English and journalism Fruita 8/9 teacher Kenton Main and Garrett’s father, Dusty Wachtel, acted as chaperones for the 10-day Oahu excursion.

Main, who has a doctorate in history, said many of the forum’s attendees were riveted by the teens’ one-hour presentation.

“They would turn to me and say, ‘I did not know that,’ ” Main said.

Main said he and the teens had already planned to go to the Hawaiian conference. Main proposed that the teens present information, and their proposal was granted.

He said other presenters were so impressed with the teens’ presence that high school students would be asked to return for future presentations.

Last summer, the students, Main and a few of the teens’ parents, traveled to France for the 65th anniversary of D-Day, when American forces stormed Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944.

The teenagers said they most appreciated learning about the Samoan history of Hawaii.

They learned that Americans of Japanese descent and Hawaiians who fought in the war waited years to be honored for their service.

The teens said being in Pearl Harbor and speaking on the USS Missouri helped build the historical framework for what they previously had only read about.

“For me it showed what it was like to be there — hearing the witnesses and their scars. All you have to do is imagine a couple of things and the pieces come together,” Leech said.


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