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Student presents U-Boat research to vets

Luke Jarrell, 14, finishes off his public presentation on the German U-505 submarine captured during World War II with a sneak peek at the enigma machine found on board Saturday at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center. The presentation was part of Jarrell’s eighth grade exit project for NorthStar Community Charter School. Maria Lockwood

With barely a glance at his PowerPoint screen, Luke Jarrell traced the final run of the U-505, the German U-boat captured during World War II. The last time America had captured an enemy ship was during the War of 1812.

"So this was a really big deal," Jarrell told audience members Saturday at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center.

His presentation was a big deal, as well.

"This marks a first," said center educator Scott Markle. "We have speakers here all the time, but he’s probably our youngest by far."

Jarrell, 14, is a student at NorthStar Community Charter School, housed within Northwood School in Minong. He chose to focus on the U-505 for his eighth grade exit project and invited local veterans to his presentation.

"I just want to raise awareness so that we don’t forget the veterans that are here with us today, the ones that did serve in World War II or the ones that served in other wars," Jarrell said. "And then the veterans that aren’t here with us but are in memories and exhibits like the one here at the Bong Center and in our hearts as we remember them forever."

Members of the Lockman-Jensen American Legion Post 499 enjoyed the presentation.

"That young man was certainly unbelievable," said World War II veteran Mert Warner of Gordon.

"I’ve never seen anybody with a memory like that," said Charlie Fink of Solon Springs, who served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War.

It brought back memories for Fink, who served on a submarine.

"Ours wasn’t exactly like theirs, but it was so close you didn’t have to ask questions," he said. U-boats had to surface every two hours for air, but Fink recalled 78-day patrols without surfacing. Air banks were tapped when oxygen got so thin that you couldn’t light a farmer match.

"Then they would crack a tank and let air out of one of these air banks … and it was just like getting a shot in the arm because you got all the fresh air," Frink said.

The sleek "Unterseeboot" was on its 12th patrol in June of 1944 when it crossed paths with Capt. Daniel Gallery and an American supply convoy off the coast of West Africa, Jarrell told the crowd. Using hedgehog mines and depth charges, planes and gunfire, they brought the ship to the surface. When the first crewman emerged to surrender, he was killed by gunfire. The other 58 crew members were captured, along with an onboard Enigma machine, which could send coded messages long distances.

After towing the ship 17,000 miles to Bermuda, the military worked quickly to hide their acquisition.

"They repainted it and renamed it the USS Nemo," Jarrell said.

If Germany knew an Enigma machine had been captured, they would change the codes that Polish codebreakers had cracked in 1932, before war erupted. The Allies approved interning the crew members, ages 17-27, in a prisoner of war camp without reporting them, a violation of the Geneva Convention. Their survival wasn’t revealed until Germany surrendered in 1945.

The U-boat toured the East Coast during a war bond drive before becoming an exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. That’s where Jarrell encountered it.

"I personally got to see the U-505 on a tour in the museum, and it was an amazing experience," he said. The teen has a keen interest in World War II, the military and naval equipment. There is a strong military thread in the family, as well.

"My grandpa, he was in the Marines; my mom was in the Marines; my uncle is in the Army, my great-uncle was in the military and then my godfather is in the Marines right now and he’s been in Japan a lot," Jarrell said.

Northwoods Community Charter School was launched in 2011 for students in grades four through eight. The charter school focuses on project-based and environmentally-based learning.

"We have no textbooks," said charter school adviser Brian Olson. "There are no report cards, no grades."

Instead, there is rigorous testing, community involvement and a flurry of self-directed projects, presented to the public during monthly Coffee Connections.

"When they’re individually motivated like that, they probably work harder than they would for a grade," Olson said. "It’s kind of fun to watch."

This is the first year Northstar has required an eighth grade exit project. In addition to Jarrell’s U-505 presentation, eighth graders researched aquatic invasive species, light pollution and the night sky, and farm-to-table food. They held a wrestling clinic, an Easter event for youth and collected care packages for soldiers. As part of the project, each student had to share their presentation with the community.

People often ask Olson how he can tell the students are learning.

"You can see it," he said with a nod at Jarrell. "You see him display something like this and you know. "

The veterans were so impressed, Jarrell’s mother said, that they asked him to bring his display and information to their Memorial Day event.

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