We believe that history is better learned from those who lived it than just reading it in books.
From it’s very modest beginnings run almost exclusively by one teacher, the project has become one of the largest of its kind in the United States.
In that year of 2000-2001, John Corona in his first year at King, made an assignment to his three U.S. History classes. The school itself was only in its second year and there had yet to be a senior class. He asked the students to go out and interview a veteran of World War II or Korea. John was inspired by a website out of Mankato, Wisconsin that displayed the stories of local vets and he thought this would be a good path for learning about that era.
After a few days, students came to Corona concerned that anybody they could have interviewed for this project (relatives or friends) had passed away. The statistics of 1200 World War II vets passing away every day in America had hit home. Corona took it upon himself to find veterans for the kids who did not have one to interview and he decided that the best way to handle the situation was to bring them to campus. So began Corona’s traveling into the veteran community of Riverside to drum up support and interviewees for the project. He went to meetings of the Military Officers Association, the Military Order of World Wars, the military committee of the Riverside Chamber of Commerce and the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. He recruited by phone and by word of mouth. Early in the process, he decided that “everybody has a story” and that a veteran did not have to have seen combat to take part. This has been a guiding mantra for the program. At one point Mr. Corona felt like “this thing has taken a life of its own” and he wasn’t sure that this thing would be successful. After discussion with principal Ray Plutko , it was decided to move forward in matter what the outcome might be.
On March 2, 2001, 28 veterans showed up on campus to be interviewed by 78 11th grade students. Corona and his wife, Nanette, put together a brunch for everybody out of their own pocket and the event was held on the third floor of the King administration building. What a day it turned out to be! To see the look in the eyes of the students as they listened to these old warriors was inspiring and to see the tears in the eyes of some of our vets was unforgettable. Veterans told stories of Pearl Harbor; of working in the Merchant Marine; flying over Polesti; serving on Iwo Jima; being a POW; being a nurse in the Pacific; being a Buffalo Soldier and so many others. Mr. Plutko told a newspaper reporter who attended that ” it was the most powerful thing I have seen in my 35 years in education.”
Two hours were spent talking together, story telling and listening. When it was over; the choir came in and sang several patriotic songs and it was over. “I stood in the room after it was all over,” Corona would say much later. ” The room was completely empty and I couldn’t help but begin to cry. I realized that we had hit upon something very special and that his needed to continue every year .”
Continue it has. It now encompasses over 300 veterans and the entire US Social Studies department. The program has spread from a single conference room to the gym, multipurpose room, the teacher’s lunch room and several classrooms. The program had become a “school event” in that the PTSA, the Choir, the Band and our ROTC unit are deeply invovled. The project has been recognized locally, statewide and even on the national level. Mr. Corona has spoken to over 30 military, civic and educational groups throughout California about the project and a number of other schools are putting together their own version of KHS Remembers.
We are proud of what the project has done for our school, our veterans and our community. When a student reaches across the table to hold the hand of a crying vet, they have reached across a generation. When a vet says he feels good about the future of America after having been with King High students, that speaks volumes. it is our hope at “King High School Remembers” that this project will help all Americans recall what it has taken for our country to stand up for freedom and democracy and to better understand that these things do not come free. We are committed to saving as many stories as possible-to reaching as many students as possible and to saying “thank you” to as many veterans as we possibly can.
Photo Courtesy of Brad Peters Photography