A roomful of eighth graders entertained and awed by the candid wit of four Pearl Harbor survivors now pressing or past 90, in an event organized by a SM East 17-year-old: that was the inter-generational connection made in Mission Friday.
Quinn Appletoft, the SM East junior from Mission, helped organize and emcee this year’s event just as he has been since he was a student at Highlands and Indian Hills. While other Pearl Harbor remembrances have faded with the survivors and their advancing age, Quinn and four survivors from Johnson County keep the Mission event not only alive, but stronger than ever.
The memory and sense of humor of Dorwin Lamkin, Edmund “Russ” Russell, Jack Carson and Jess Dunnagan, all who were at Pearl Harbor on that day 71 years ago, made history come alive for the roomful of eighth graders from Indian Hills and Indian Woods Middle Schools. All four joined the service in 1940, Lamkin and Dunnagan in the Navy and Carson and Russell in the Army Air Corps, the precursor of today’s Air Force.
They were teenagers who had grown up with the depression and saw the service as a way to get fed and paid during hard times. Dunnagan came to the Navy from the Civilian Conservation Corps, a depression-era jobs program. Carson and Russell joined the air corps for three years with a promise of assignment to Hawaii. “I thought it would be a three-year vacation in Hawaii.” None of them anticipated being in a war when they enlisted, let alone under attack like at Pearl Harbor.
They all remember exactly where they were when the Japanese attack started. Lamkin told the students it took “about 30 seconds” to realize it wasn’t a drill.
Carson described diving behind the concrete barracks at Hickam Field as Japanese planes strafed the street – the pock marks, he said, are in the walls to this day. And Dunnagan painted a vivid picture of survival after the USS California was abandoned. With the surface of the water on fire from the leaking gas and oil, he and his surviving shipmates swam underwater, pushing the fire aside as they came up briefly for air until they reached land.
Were they scared, the students asked. “I was scared to death,” Lamkin replied.
The living history lesson survives for another year with the stories of four men who lived it and the tenacity of a teenager who believes it should not be forgotten.