Students hear first-hand account of Pearl Harbor attack

by Tori Hamby

World War II U.S. Army veteran Jack Leach shows Mountain Island Charter School students a “Hawaiian dollar” he managed to smuggle out of Pearl Harbor. (Tori Hamby/MIM photo)

In the minutes before the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor, Jack Leach was simply a young solider enjoying his breakfast in the mess hall, unaware that he was about to live through one of the greatest tragedies in American history.

The now-92-year-old Mount Airy native was one of many U.S. military veterans who spent Nov. 8, Veterans Day, at Mountain Island Charter School, where they were honored with a recognition ceremony and shared their military experiences with students.

“We were eating breakfast, I remember that we were eating eggs and pancakes,” the U.S. Army veteran told a classroom of students. “We heard the sound of the planes, but we thought that it was the Air Corps practicing.”

Leach joined his grandchildren Jackson, Bella Grace and Pryor Rhinehardt, who attend Mountain Island Charter, for the program. Students got to hear stories from World War II, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, Operation Desert Storm and more recent conflicts in the Middle East.

“Some people may question why we don’t make Veterans Day a vacation day,” said Head of School Linda Bratcher. “But I don’t see how staying at home all day or going to the mall rightfully honors these heroes who have served our country. They have so much to teach us.”

Leach brought a large book full of mementos from his years in the service, including a dollar bill with the word “Hawaii” stamped on both sides. Punishment for smuggling out the “Hawaiian money”, which was supposed to be cashed in for normal bills, could be as extreme as serving up to five years in the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, located in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and a $1,000 fine. He managed to sneak out the dollar by wrapping it in cellophane and placing it in his shoe.

“I hope the statute of limitations has run out,” Leach joked while showing students the bill.

As a young man, Leach signed up for foreign service after joining the military in 1940, which took him to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He remained there until 1943, when he was shipped to Australia. American soldiers defended the country, while members of the Australian military aided British soldiers.

In 1944, he was able to return home, but was later called back to Germany. After coming back home for good he went to work for the City of Mount Airy in a water treatment facility. He retired more than three decades later.

Throughout the day, elementary and middle school students asked questions about everything ranging from the medals he wore on his jacket to guns he has fired and even about the military nurses also stationed at Pearl Harbor.

After the classroom visits, Mountain Island Charter students and staff treated the group to a luncheon and later honored each veteran in a formal ceremony.

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