WAVELAND, MS (WLOX) - As our nation prepares to observe the 70th anniversary of D-Day this year, students at Pearl River Community College in Waveland received a history lesson from some of the soldiers who lived it.
The first hand accounts of the battle came as real eye openers for many of the college students.
"And then we got hit by about 300 more Japanese planes. When the day was over, we lost 3,000 service people. It's a day you'll never forget. It's a day I'll never forget," said World War II Veteran Burt Stolier.
Stolier re-lived the horror he felt as a young Marine stationed at Pearl Harbor. He shared his terrifying story with history students at Pearl River Community College. He said December 7, 1941 was a day that changed the world forever, and led to D-Day, the United States's comeback, starting with the invasion of Normandy.
"That C-47 dropped the very first American Paratroopers called the Pathfinders behind the beaches of Normandy France," said Ronald Abboud, of the WW II Museum as he pointed to a vintage planes projected on a large screen.
At the time of Pearl Harbor, America's military ranked 18th in the world, with only about 635,000 soldiers. Japan's military was 4.6 million strong, followed by Nazi Germany with 4.5 million service men.
America's quest to build its military might turned America around socially, economically, and racially.
"Men and women, black and white, working side by side... It's a time of segregation in America, segregation of race. We already talked about segregation in gender; basically women stayed home. Life is changing and it's going to change forever. We came together as one nation. The term they used was we're all in this together," explained Abboud.
An American company contracted to build the Higgins Boat employed 30,000 people. They produced 700 of the beach landing watercraft a month.
Abboud asked one student, "If you said to the great boat builders of today, 'I want you to build 700 boats a month,' what do you think they'd say?"
It was a rare living history lesson the students say they can't get from their text books.
"I've known a little bit about World War II and what was going on, but the human experience, to actually be able to hear it from someone who was there, that was the most memorable thing I'll take away from this," said student Jordan Roberts.
The 70th anniversary of D-Day will be observed June 6th. The presentation for the students was put on by representatives from the World War II Museum in New Orleans.