Memorial Day is next week with its tributes, remembrances and parades.
But the message behind the day to honor Americans who have died in service to their country is foremost in the mind of one local teacher and a 17-year-old St. Edward High School student. The two have been working for eight months to honor one of Northeast Ohio’s “silent” heroes and to see firsthand where World War II started for Americans: Pearl Harbor.
Frank O’Grady, an Olmsted Falls resident, Air Force veteran and Menlo Park Academy teacher, and Jacob Gibson, a Rocky River resident and St. Ed’s junior, are flying to Hawaii in June as part of the National History Day “World War II Silent Hero” program. They will present a program on Cleveland native Rear Adm. Isaac C. Kidd, the highest-ranking officer killed when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Their research will be part of the June 18-30 forum titled “Sacrifice for Freedom: World War II in the Pacific Student & Teacher Institute.”
A total of 15 teams (a teacher and a student) have been invited to participate in the forum. Each student, including Jacob, will present their research on a Pacific-theater hero.
Researching an in-depth history project is nothing new for Jacob and O’Grady. They first worked together on National History Day projects when O’Grady taught history at Rocky River Middle School. As an eighth-grade student, Jacob won first place for the region for his NHD research on the space race in the 1960s between America and the Soviet Union.
O’Grady, 62, a retired Air Force intelligence officer, has been involved with National History Day since 2010, when he was an NHD judge as a graduate student at Cleveland State University. After graduating from CSU with a master’s degree in education, O’Grady taught in Rocky River for four years. He founded the middle school’s NHD student program, as well as one at Rocky River High School. In 2015, he was earned the Behring Award as the NHD Teacher of the Year for Ohio and, in 2016, he was won the David Van Tassel Award as the NHD Teacher of the Year for NHD Region 3.
O’Grady left in 2017 to teach at Menlo Park, a tuition-free, open-enrollment, charter school in Cleveland serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
NHD rules require student participants be high school sophomores or juniors. O’Grady, when looking for someone for the World War II heroes project, said he immediately thought of Jacob.
“I called Jacob and he agreed. I was very lucky,” O’Grady said at a recent Saturday afternoon meeting over coffee.
Jacob, an honors student with multiple extracurricular activities, last year was named Student of the Year in AP History for this region, “a really impressive accomplishment,” O’Grady noted.
“We decided almost immediately on Admiral Kidd,” Jacob said. Admiral Kidd grew up on West 50th Street (coincidentally, close to where Menlo Park Academy is now). He was commander of Battleship Division One and his flagship was the USS Arizona, now one of the most-visited memorials from World War II.
“When the attack started (at 7:53 a.m.), Admiral Kidd rushed to the bridge of the USS Arizona, which was his flagship,” O’Grady said. “We don’t know how he got there so quickly, but we think he had a cabin on the Arizona.” A Japanese bomb hit the USS Arizona, breaching the first deck and the forward munitions magazine, blowing up and sinking the ship. The fire burned for two days.
All they found of Admiral Kidd, who had been in the fortified bridge area, “was his Naval Academy ring, fused into the metal of the bulkhead,” O’Grady said.
A total of 2,335 military personnel were killed that day, including 2,008 Navy personnel, 109 Marines, and 218 Army. Added to this were 68 civilians, making the total 2,403 people dead. The highest number — 1,177 — were from the USS Arizona.
“I’ve learned so much about what an important role Cleveland played in the war,” Jacob said. “I never knew things like they made bombers at the I-X Center. I knew it used to be a tank plant, but I was surprised they also made bombers.”
A special part of the event-packed week in Hawaii includes spending the night on the USS Missouri, directly adjacent in the harbor to the USS Arizona Memorial, part of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. “We will be staying where the sailors slept,” Jacob said.
The USS Arizona Memorial is closed for repairs. “I’m not sure if they’re going to make any special arrangements for us, but at least we will have our overnight stay on the USS Missouri, which looks down at the USS Arizona,” O’Grady said. “That will give Jacob and myself some time that evening to reflect about the service and sacrifice of our Silent Hero, Admiral Isaac Kidd, and the 1,177 sailors who gave their lives on the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941.”
This apparently is a summer when Jacob will be surrounded by heroes. A week after coming back from Hawaii, he will travel with another history group to France and Belgium to visit the WWII battlefields in Normandy, the Somme and Ypres.
“I’m looking forward to having a better understanding of what it felt like to be at these places,” Jacob said. “I hope to understand the consequences and ramifications and how (the battles) impacted the United States and history, including how World War II brought us out of the Depression and led to the Cold War. It helped push the U.S. forward with technology and is a driving force even today.”
Contact this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 440-871-5797.