David Hayward was a pilot of a B-25 bomber in World War II.
The Air Force first lieutenant was once given a mission to attack an enemy airport in Burma. But just as he and his fellow pilots arrived, the enemy gave chase. He remembers a Japanese fighter plane flying alongside. It was a pretty scary moment, he said, though he and his compatriots managed to get through it.
“I try to tell the students that yes, we do get scared,” said Hayward, of Huntington Beach. “We’re human beings. But somehow our training is good and we manage to survive.”
That was just one of the stories Corona del Mar High School students heard Thursday as part of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s “Living History” program, which joins groups of about six students with military veterans the groups select or are paired with through the Freedom Committee of Orange County, an organization of veterans that works to facilitate the program.
“I think it’s important to bring history by those that lived it into the classroom,” said Scott Williams, president of the Freedom Committee. “It’s a learning experience for the students and it’s also a learning experience for the veterans themselves because we bring the personal stories that fill in the blanks in the history for our period.”
Students research the military campaigns the veterans were in and prepare a list of questions for them. Veterans then go to schools and speak with classes about their service — in Corona del Mar’s case, sophomore world history classes. The students later write a reflection and thank-you letter to give to their veterans at a luncheon, which took place at CdM on Thursday afternoon.
About 100 veterans gathered for the event in the school’s gym, along with students, district staff and community members.
Jillian Marquez, who was in Hayward’s group of students, said she was excited to speak with someone who was part of a war, particularly one of great significance like World War II.
“He talked about having to wake up one day and not having someone next to you [who] the night before ... was there. … They weren’t there anymore because they had passed,” Jillian said. “When he said that, that made me really sad because I’m like, ‘Oh, what if I wake up and one of my best friends just isn’t there one day?’ I felt a lot of empathy in that.”
Jillian said the program made history more personal and gave her a reason to learn more about the subject because she knew someone who was involved in it.
Sophomore class President Troy Tsubota said he knew about the project beforehand because of older siblings who had passed through the school. Troy was involved in organizing the luncheon.
“It’s a really great experience for all the sophomores and just for everyone to hear a bunch of stories from all the different veterans, and it’s a really cool experience and I’m glad to be involved in it,” Troy said.
The program has been at Corona del Mar High School since 1999, beginning with a panel of about five World War II veterans.
It was expanded to other Newport-Mesa campuses about four years ago, said Denise Weiland, an organizer of the event, and now includes three middle schools — TeWinkle, Ensign and Costa Mesa — and all the high schools — Corona del Mar, Newport Harbor, Estancia, Early College, Back Bay and Costa Mesa.
“The Living History program provides a once-in-a-lifetime first-person account to our students and fosters patriotism that extends through the rest of their life,” said district board President Charlene Metoyer. “We ... are totally grateful to CdM for treating our veterans with the respect and love they all deserve.”