School custodian donates Pearl Harbor history to Hudson Falls students

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hudson falls pearl harbor newspapers

An issue of The Boston Herald, published Dec. 10, 1941, chronicles life on one of the days shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The newspaper is one of 11 that have been professionally framed and will be displayed at Hudson Falls High School after being found by a school custodian, in Hudson Falls, N.Y. (Photo: Jay Petrequin)

HUDSON FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – A headline can tell a whole story in a hundredth of the space, boiling paragraphs down to words. The Boston Herald issue on Dec. 8, 1941, does just that.

“(Japanese) BOMB HAWAII, FIRE U.S. WARSHIP, TOLL HUGE,” it reads, in all capitals. The words dominate a quarter of the front page all on their own. Below them, a subheadline colors in the lines that those bold words draw in the mind of anyone who reads them.

“War declared, Pearl Harbor, Guam blasted; 104 soldiers die, civilian loss heavy; U.S. acts today, Roosevelt calls Congress.”

Eleven newspapers – nine from the Boston Herald, one from the Boston Traveler and one from the Manchester Union – sat in a row, neatly framed, in front of the auditorium stage at Hudson Falls High School on Tuesday morning. Some were from the couple days before a day that would live in infamy, others from the days after; and all part of the story of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The newspapers were arranged for a special assembly marking the 80th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack on Tuesday. Some students filed into the auditorium in-person, with many more tuning in from their own classrooms to keep things socially distanced by COVID-19 protocol. Although the papers weren’t local to the community, the man who gave them to the school is.

“I took them home, and they sat in my basement for a while,” said George McKinney, who works as a custodian at Hudson Falls. “Then I found out we still had some interest in World War II here at the school.”

The Boston Herald for Dec. 6, 1941; the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor. (Photo: Jay Petrequin)

McKinney obtained the newspapers through his sister, who was the caretaker for their aunt and uncle, who had kept the papers from their own parents. That long chain ended with the papers in McKinney’s hands after his aunt and uncles’ deaths.

McKinney shared the newspapers with Kimberly Shea, a history and social studies teacher at the high school. At first, Shea didn’t quite know what to do with them, either; but she saw their power as an educational tool.

“The first newspaper I opened was dated Dec. 6, 1941,” Shea said. “And at that very moment, my heart started beating so fast, I could not believe what was in my hands.”

Shea said that newspapers like these, covering many dates throughout December 1941, add to the context around the historical events we hear about so often. Sure enough, the front pages framed on display bear updates on Nazi movements from that point in the war; details of a trolley wire accident causing public transit delays that affect thousands of people; and, pointedly, advertisements that remind readers how many shopping days are left until Christmas.

Advertisements on one of the front pages displayed at Hudson Falls High School, of newspapers reporting on the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. (Photo: Jay Petrequin)

“I think one of the things that are really informative, is if students get up close and personal with these front pages, and they look at the price,” Shea said, raising another example. “Newspapers, 3 cents? Really? Four sections, are you kidding me?”

The newspapers will remain professionally framed. They will be hung and displayed somewhere in the school, at a time and place yet to be determined.

One local life among hundreds

One Hudson Falls connection became the starting point to connect to another one. Tuesday morning’s assembly featured a lecture from Matt Rozell, a historian and former Hudson Falls history teacher. Rozell showed photos from the Japanese attacks on U.S. Navy vessels, and told the story of one vessel – the USS Oklahoma – which sunk with Randy Holmes, a 19-year-old Hudson Falls native soldier, on board.

“The explosion ripped through the port side, with Randy – our 19-year-old from Hudson Falls – and over 400 others trapped below her decks,” Rozell recounted, reading with alliteration from “The Story of World War II,” an oral history compendium he said any former students of his would recognize as part of his own annual curriculum.

The USS Oklahoma was hit by five torpedoes before going down. Holmes’ body was one of many never recovered.

The 1942 yearbook dedication to Randy Holmes, a Hudson Falls, N.Y. local who was killed in the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. (Photo: Jay Petrequin)

After also reading an account from a survivor of the attack on the Oklahoma, Rozell also talked about one of his own students, a girl named Jesse. After hearing Rozell talk about having learned about Randy Holmes in recent years, Jesse asked him for her assignments early, because she was going to Hawaii on Easter break. With just a hint of sass in his voice as he retold it, Rozell had just the thing in mind.

“So I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve got an assignment for you: Find this kid that I’ve been talking about. Randy Holmes.'” Rozell said. “And she did.”

Jesse found Holmes’ grave less than a mile away, at Moss Street Cemetery. Rozell brought students to visit the grave during his last year teaching. He planned to visit again after Tuesday’s presentation.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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