The events of Dec. 7, 1941, are still fresh in Anthony Iantorno’s mind.
He was stationed in Pearl Harbor with the U.S. Army when the attack from Japan launched the U.S. into the war.
There had been a false alarm the week before and everybody was on edge, he said.
“(Soldiers were) firing at every noise,” he said. “We were all nervous.”
Iantorno, who was an artillery soldier, shot down two airplanes during the attack.
“I could see the eyes of the Japanese tail gunner,” Iantorno said.
Iantorno learned a lot during his time in the Army, including two very important lessons: Learn from your mistakes and live life to its fullest.
“You never know when you or someone (you love) might die,” Iantorno said. “So enjoy life.”
Iantorno, along with approximately 70 other veterans, joined about 400 Corona del Mar High School sophomores last week for the annual Living History luncheon.
The event is part of the Living History Service Learning Program, which began in February, said Denise Weiland, who has been working with the Freedom Committee of Orange County and organizing the event for the past 11 years.
Weiland, who is the service learning and Human Relations Council advisor, said the project gives students the opportunity to learn about history firsthand.
Groups of sophomores are paired up with a veteran, interview him or her, transcribe the interview, write a report about what they learned and create a DVD of the interview.
Iantorno’s group of sophomores included Erica Lesko, Maddy Gaylord, Athena Lemay, Alysha Kundanmal, Natalie Broin and Maddie Foster.
“I’m happy to have these girls (interview me),” said Iantorno. “They came to my house… Showed a lot of respect.”
The Living History Project was designed for students to understand the background of John Knowles’ novel, “A Separate Peace.” The novel focuses on the relationship between two high school boys coming of age during World War II.
“The goal of the Living History Project is to inspire and engage our students to have a greater appreciation for World War II (and other war) veterans’ sacrifices and accomplishments, learn about the history of our country, and understand what it means to be an American,” said Weiland.
The event featured several speakers from the Freedom Committee, including Jack Hammett, the founder of the organization.
A few selected students got up to share their experiences, as well. One of the student speakers became emotional while re-telling her veteran’s story. She had family in the military, she said, and couldn’t help but think of them.
Many of the veterans attending the event wore articles of their military attire, and some were even in full uniform. One group of students showed their support by wearing World War II outfits themselves.
The group of soldiers shared stories as the mic was passed around to honor each and every veteran in attendance.
Snippets of their life in the military got laughs, like the veteran who traded chocolate for vodka in Russia.
Some got a collective sigh of awe, like the story from a Balboa Island resident who was scheduled to go on the last mission of the war in 1945, but didn’t because of a last-minute change in orders.
“If I had gone, I wouldn’t be here today,” he said.
Several stories drew a loud applause from the crowd, like the veteran who said his team of students brought him back to life.
Many of the veterans commented on how they connected with their students.
Bill Pemberton, who was in the Navy from 1954-58, said he enjoyed the experience of sharing with the students. He told them about his career in the Navy, his time on the first supercarrier ever made for the Navy, the USS Forrestal, and how he crossed the Artic Circle and received the Blue Nose Certificate.
“I was impressed with their demeanor and their maturity. They were very interested… And had well thought-out questions,” Pemberton said. “It was a wonderful experience.”