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Pearl Harbor Day tour at Bong Center impresses students

Cellphones were out Friday, Dec. 7, as eighth-graders from Superior Middle School's blue wing toured the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center. They snapped pictures of the center's P-38 Lightning plane, the names of veterans memorialized on...

(Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com) DeWayne Tomasek, executive officer of the Commemorative Air Force, leads a tour at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center, as eighth-grader, Darrel James, left, looks over the U.S. Armed Forces Medals display Friday, Dec. 7. Bus loads of students from Superior Middle School toured the center.
DeWayne Tomasek, executive officer of the Commemorative Air Force, leads a tour at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center, as eighth-grader, Darrel James, left, looks over the U.S. Armed Forces Medals display Friday, Dec. 7. Bus loads of students from Superior Middle School toured the center. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Cellphones were out Friday, Dec. 7, as eighth-graders from Superior Middle School's blue wing toured the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center.

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Superior Middle School students tour the Bong Center on Dec. 7. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

They snapped pictures of the center's P-38 Lightning plane, the names of veterans memorialized on the gallery wall around it, medals, guns, goggles - even a typewriter.

"I always encourage them to just think of one little thing that moved them and touched them," social studies teacher Kelly Ritter-Spohn said. "And now that they have their phones, they can take a picture of their favorite artifact and then share it."

The students toured the museum on the anniversary of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

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"Context for eighth graders is really important," Ritter-Spohn said.

The students agreed it was a day to remember.

"Because terrible things happened," Falan Reed said.

"Because it brought us into the war," Tommy Ortiz said. "And the war changed everything about history. It changed everything."

The tour was an unusual one for center staff. Students broke into groups and visited six stations, most led by SMS teachers.

"We became the experts," Ritter-Spohn said. "So now they can see a math teacher who knows history and a science teacher that is interested in the P-38. Now they can see this is what lifetime learning is, because this is your history and everybody knows it."

Science teacher Jon Reker led students through the area where the plane rested, then invited them to explore.

"It's teaching kids how to appreciate things in life and appreciate museums," Reker said. "You need to have self-inquiry and just investigate on your own."

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He enjoyed connecting the story of Bong, a Poplar boy who earned national fame as a World War II aviator, to the science behind how plane engines work. The students enjoyed the visit.

"A lot of them live in the town and have never been here," Reker said. "A lot of them don't even realize this is here and a lot of them ask questions. I've had some good questions about, 'What is that?' 'Why is there a tractor?'"

Ritter-Spohn said the story of Bong, who was inspired to become a pilot by watching mail planes fly overhead, rings true to students today.

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Superior Middle School teacher John Reker, center, leads a tour of the Bong Center. Jed Carlson jcarlson@superiortelegram.com

"It just feels so connected because that's what students do," she said. "They see something and they go 'I want to do that.' And so Richard Bong, then, becomes them. And so they connect with that. They know what it's like to be doing chores, to be doing ordinary things, but wishing or hoping or looking for something more in their lives."

The center wraps Bong's story into a larger context that includes all conflicts.

"I've been to museums all over the world, and this is one of my favorite small museums," Ritter-Spohn said. "I don't think any museum does it better than this one. Instead of turning it into a shrine for a single family or a single war, they have made it inclusive and comprehensive and really marked history, American history. And I think they've done it extremely well."

Scriven said he appreciated the Superior School District's support of the center and its commitment to sharing history with young people.

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"Why I get so passionate about telling history is it might not be there," Scriven said. "It might not be there and that's why we have to stand up and promote our past and our history so people can better understand it and appreciate where we are today."

Friday's trip taught the students about service, sacrifice and civic engagement.

"I really feel like social studies teachers today, we are on the front lines," Ritter-Spohn said. "We are in the trenches for civic engagement and civic renewal. And kids cannot be engaged if they don't know their own history. This matters. This matters more today than it ever has."

Students said it was a chance to touch, question, see and interact with history.

"It's legit-ness," eighth-grader Darrel James said.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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