K-12 Program at the National Museum of World War II Aviation
After School University is a proud operator of the K-12 STEM Programs at the National Museum of World War II Aviation in Colorado Springs, CO. The programs are FREE to all Colorado students.
May 17, 2018
How reading changed my life
When I was young, all I was interested in reading was fantasy; particularly Harry Potter, which is understandable enough. Nonfiction did not hold my attention and felt more like reading a text book. Then, in 2014, a movie came out that I was interested in, but knew nothing about. I'd been told it was an amazing story, so I rented it. It was the movie "Unbroken” based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand. I was completely floored when I saw it and simply had to get my hands on more. I wanted to know more about this man, Louie Zamperini, and what he'd been through. I bought the book and haven't put it down since. I'll be re-reading it for the eighth time next month. (As is normal, the book is one hundred times better than the movie and I always advocate for reading the book first.) When I love something, I have the tendency to read it over and over again, recommend it to everyone, and quite literally never stop talking about it. This book changed my life, not only because of Louie’s incredible redemption story, but because of the love and fascination that grew in my heart and mind for the forgotten men and theatre of WWII: the Pacific, the airmen, and the POWs of the Japanese. The European theatre is so well studied that most people have forgotten we fought another enemy. Most people have only heard of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima... possibly Iwo Jima, but surprisingly, not many people have heard that name that I've come across. My pursuits, while staying grounded in pursuing a biology degree—at the time and since pursuing my work as a zoo keeper—shifted toward reading and watching all I could get my hands on for WWII. Fantasy holds no fascination for me now when there are incredible stories like Louie's to be found in the real world. My book shelf is covered in books on the Pacific theatre and I've watched every documentary and movie I can find. I cannot recommend reading strongly enough, especially to a generation growing up with so much technology. Reading has the capacity to and will change your life and ground your future pursuits.
I love the reactions I get from my students when I share a particularly interesting piece of trivia. Just a couple weeks ago, I had a group from Wildflower Elementary School. They were so intrigued by what I was saying that I had every kid’s attention with wide eyes and “wows” on their lips. They were interested and engaged. We wound up running over, because the kids had such great questions and were so involved!
Heroes on the Home Front
The term “home front” is a fairly recent saying. During WWI, 1914-1918, this term came about in response to the Germans using airplanes to bomb cities for the first time. Airplanes were just starting to become a part of war and the idea that your cities were no longer safe was a brand new concept. The Germans were actually criticized for not fighting fair because they were the first to use their planes and, at that time, Zeppelins to bomb cities. Nothing like the scale or damage that happened in WWII during bombing runs, however, a mere twenty years later. But it was the first time it ever happened. Because the war ended up lasting for so many years, the nations involved had to get everybody immersed on all levels to maintain the pace of the war. So the idea of the home front being your factories, the morale of everyone concerned, and the general engine behind the war became a concept. WWI had the Western Front, the Eastern Front, and now the “Home Front.” People treated it with the same level of seriousness as any other aspect of the war. This idea proceeded into the next war. The nations had seen just how effective a backbone the home front could be.
When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, England was thrust on to the front line. Now most of America’s allies were involved in the war, however, all we could commit to do was help from a distance. WWI had ended only twenty years previously and our country was still spirling from the Depression. Our allies in China had been invaded by Japan in 1937, which arguably was the true beginning of WWII, when the nations started moving against each other. Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 and Hitler took the Rhineland in 1936. After the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on the American navel fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the U.S. was finally thrust into World War II. Everyday life across the country was dramatically altered. Food, gas, and clothing were rationed. Communities conducted scrap metal drives. To help build the armaments necessary to win the war, women found employment in many different areas they would normally never have been considered. In the earliest days of America’s involvement in the war, panic gripped the country. If the Japanese military could successfully attack Pearl Harbor and inflict catastrophic damage on the naval fleet and casualties among innocent civilians, many people wondered what was to prevent a similar assault on the U.S. mainland, particularly along the Pacific coast. Less than an hour after the Japanese bombed Hawaii, mines were being laid in San Francisco Bay. In coming days, trenches were dug along the California coast and from New Jersey to Alaska, reservoirs, bridges, tunnels, factories, and waterfronts were put under guard. Blackout curtains were hung in windows all across America.
“All over the Pacific that morning, the story was the same. In less than two hours over Pearl Harbor, Japan badly wounded the American navy and killed more than 2,400 people. Almost simultaneously, it attacked Thailand, Shanghai, Malaya, the Philippines, Guam, Midway, and Wake. In one day of breathtaking violence, a new Japanese onslaught had begun.” (Hillenbrand, 2010)
This fear of attack translated into a ready acceptance by a majority of Americans of the need to sacrifice in order to achieve victory. During the spring of 1942, a rationing program was established that set limits on the amount of gas, food, and clothing consumers could purchase. Gas rations in Colorado went down to three gallons a week. Families were issued ration booklets with stamps that were used to buy their allotment of everything from meat, sugar, fat, butter, vegetables, and fruit to gas, tires, and clothing. Many children from that generation still have a taste for meat items like tongue, liver, and sweet breads (all leftovers inside the animals mashed into a meatloaf), because that’s what they were raised on. The United States Office of War Information released posters in which Americans were urged to “Do with less so they’ll have enough” (“they” referred to the U.S. troops). Meanwhile, individuals and communities conducted drives for the collection of scrap metal, aluminum cans, and rubber, all of which were recycled and used to produce armaments. Individuals purchased war bonds to help pay for the high cost of armed conflict. From the outset of the war, it was clear that enormous quantities of airplanes, tanks, warships, rifles and other armaments would be essential to beating America’s aggressors. U.S. workers played a vital role in the production of such war-related materials. Many of these workers were women. Indeed, with tens of thousands of American men joining the armed forces and heading into training and into battle, women began securing jobs as welders, electricians and riveters in defense plants. Until that time, such positions had been strictly for men only. During the war years, the decrease in the availability of men in the work force also led to an upsurge in the number of women holding non-war-related factory jobs. By the mid-1940s, the percentage of women in the American work force had expanded from 25 percent to 36 percent. Until 1943, women were wearing men’s clothing as denom and jeans had not yet been fit and made for women. The home front was brought into the Second World War, and it would change the outcome. (Staff, 2010)
May 10, 2018
The Greatest Generation
Imagine a time when millions of people were out of jobs…your parents paychecks didn’t stretch the week…storms raged across the midwest, destroying crops and ruining lives. In the midst of this, a war is waged that staggers the mind; fought on a scale never seen before or since. An unprecedented attack throws our country onto the front lines. While the world is crashing into chaos, every citizen in the United States, with what little they have, throw everything behind the war effort. The men volunteer to become soldiers. Many that were denied were so distraught and humiliated, to not be able to fight for their country and their families, that they committed suicide.
With the men away, the women were left on the home-front to pick up the slack and work in the factories. They took dangerous jobs building bombs, planes, ammunition, and so much more. Many others took up jobs on the farms and generally kept the economy rolling during the war. Even the children helped with the war effort. They were called “nine to five orphans,” because their father was at war and their mother was in the factory. They had to get up, make breakfast and lunch for their siblings, get to school on time, start their homework, and help their mother make dinner.
In between all that, they found time to collect tins and rubbish to be recycled and used in war manufacturing. Neighborhoods held competitions to see which teams could get the most usable material. Women were giving away silk stockings to be turned into parachutes and melting down jewelry to become bullets. Everyone was behind the war effort for nearly five years in America and longer in other countries. We saw the merest hint of this kind of camaraderie after the September 11 attacks.
Imagine the selflessness of this WWII generation to pour everything into the hopes of making the world a better place. To fight and endure unimaginable horror
…No wonder they are called the Greatest Generation.
Why Do the K-12 STEM Program at the National Museum of World War II Aviation?
Some students live for the museum. Others live for the field trip. How can we reach out and inspire both? I am the type of person who could spend hours even days at a museum reading every plaque and soaking in everything the guides and docents have to say. As a teacher at the National Museum of WWII Aviation, I am always thrilled to receive students who are just as passionate about learning. But others wonder why they are here? What does this have to do with me? This happened so long ago…why should I care? I strive to draw these students in and help them to think critically about these questions, relating this history back to their life. World War II history, I would argue, is the most important history anyone can learn and it didn’t happen that long ago. This coming December will be only the 77th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Many people alive still remember that day and where they were and some, not as many as we’d like, are veterans of the war and still carry the scars of their experiences. Each month, I hope to share with you a little bit more about my story and why I am so passionate about this history and these people and how you can find hope and inspiration in their stories as well.
- Elizabeth Rizzo,
Mission Leader, K-12 Programs