Soddy-Daisy High School students are preserving history today, before it slips away.
More than 4,000 miles from home, 40 students from the school's media and American history classes are in Hawaii at the site of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor to videotape interviews with members of the shrinking group of survivors.
"When these guys pass away, there's no replacing [them]," said media teacher Glenn Bolin, speaking Monday from Hawaii.
Today is the 69th anniversary of the Japanese attack on American forces at Pearl Harbor, the assault that triggered the start of U.S. involvement in World War II.
* 60,000: Number of military personnel on the island during the Dec. 7, 1941, attack.
* 3,000: Estimated number of survivors.
* 100-200: Number of survivors estimated to return to Pearl Harbor today.
Source: USA Today
Bolin and his students hope to finish their documentary and travel back to Hawaii next year to present it as a gift to the National Park Service on the 70th anniversary of the attack.
Bolin first traveled to Pearl Harbor with another group of students several years ago and said he was impressed by the stories of survivors, who volunteered to talk with visitors at the memorial. The youngest of those survivors is about 87, Bolin said, and the group gets smaller every year as more die.
In fact, Bolin said, because their numbers are dwindling, leaders of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association are considering disbanding.
"When I was here with 300 kids a few years ago, I watched them gather around this little old guy and [students] were just awestruck," Bolin said. "He was a survivor of the attack, and I realized that, in 10 years, that's just not going to happen. I thought, 'What can we do to save this?' I figured I could put my media skills to use."
In addition to working with the Park Service, the Soddy-Daisy students are joining with students in media classes at Kalaheo High School in Kailua, Hawaii, said Soddy-Daisy Principal John Maynard.
"It was too good an opportunity. You just can't get a better hands-on situation than that," he said.
Senior Bivens Lewallen, 19, said the fact that his late grandfather fought as a Marine in World War II made him especially interested in going on the trip to Pearl Harbor.
"I thought this was a really good experience for me, and I wanted to learn something about what happened. Also, it was a trip to Hawaii," he said.
Today, the students mostly will interview survivors and ask them to tell their story to the camera, what they remember about the attack that killed more than 2,000, sank or damaged 21 U.S. ships and became what President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed "a date which will live in infamy."
Students also will shoot footage of the dedication ceremony for the new $56 million visitor center and museum, which opens today.
The new 7,000-square-foot facilities are twice the size they were previously to accommodate the more than 1.5 million people who visit the USS Arizona Memorial annually, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. The USS Arizona was sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor, killing 1,177 members of its crew.
Eileen Martinez, chief of interpretation at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which manages the USS Arizona Memorial, said she wishes more high school students were taking such an active approach to preserving history.
"I think it's amazing ... the message here is, now is the time to be doing this, talking to grandma and grandpa," she said. "World War II veterans are in the sunset of their lives."
In addition to the opportunity to record history, Bolin said the Pearl Harbor trip is an ideal learning opportunity for his media students.
"This is a real-life, practical application of the skills that they're learning; they don't get a second chance [to shoot this footage]," he said. "No one professional, amateur, other high school has ever done anything of this type on this scale ever before."