DENVER (CBS4) – Students at Denver’s South High School got a living history lesson on Wednesday when three World War II veterans visited and told stories to a Social Studies class.
Carl Hammergren, Harold Haberman and Earl Lammers came from nearby Clermont Park Retirement Center to tell of a time when the world was at war and hundreds of thousands of American troops were killed in the early 1940s.
Hammergren joined the Naval Reserves after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and eventually sailed across the Pacific Ocean to fight in the South Pacific. One of the grim facts he recalled was when Japanese pilots killed themselves by flying their planes into American ships in kamikaze missions.
Haberman, a Denver native, also fought the Japanese but as a Marine with the 2nd Marine Division. He served in the South Pacific for a little over two years in a special weapons battalion and his unit saw heavy casualties.
“I lost most of my men. Out of 1000, there were about 200 of us left,” he said.
Lammers served in Italy for about three years in the U.S. Army Air Corps during the war. His job was loading bombs on A-20s and A-26s, both medium bomber planes, and preparing machine guns on fighter planes.
“When the planes came back we checked them out for bullet holes make sure hydraulic lines weren’t severed,” he said.
Lammers didn’t see direct combat, but his unit supported the 10th Bombing Division. He also was present when Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini’s body was brought to Milan after his execution and it was hung upside down in public.
“I was there when they hung Mussolini upside down by his heels,” Imers said. “They caught him trying to escape along the Swiss border. In Milan they strung him up.”
Another gruesome tale the students heard was related by Haberman. He said he will never forget being on the island of Saipan in the Mariana Islands after American troops defeated a division of the Imperial Japanese Army there. Many Japanese civilians killed themselves rather than be captured by Americans, as the emperor had encouraged them to do.
Haberman said he saw Japanese women hurling themselves and their babies off a cliff.
“This is just one thing that kind of sticks with me. I never will forget that,” he said.
As is the case today with Colorado’s young veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, sometimes troops then had trouble finding work when they got done with their tours of duty.
“Then you get out and wonder ‘What are we going to do for work?’ And that was one of the problems. Jobs were not that easy to find,” Lammers said.
And also, as today, soldiers often experienced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“After I was out eight or nine years I woke up and I was frightened. Terribly frightened. And I didn’t know what was going on,” Haberman said. “I didn’t have any idea where it was coming from. And I still don’t.”
Haberman said at the time it wasn’t really clear what PTSD was. He still gets therapy treatment for it today.
Hammergren says it was “just luck” that he survived the war. He also said he holds no ill feelings today towards the people who were then “the enemy.” He was in Japan for a time after his boat was decommissioned.
“We were treated very well, and we treated them well,” Hammergren told the students.
Haberman said he got over any hard feelings towards the Japanese a long time ago, but he understands why some veterans might still have negative feelings.
“I can understand why. You have a buddy killed here and a buddy killed here and you just don’t get over that,” he said.
Haberman says his faith helped him as he wrestled with those feelings of hate.
“I’m a Christian, and I think that had a lot to do with it,” he said.
This is the second year World War II vets from Clermont Park have provided living history lessons to South High students.
– Written by Jesse Sarles for CBSDenver.com