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Filing Cabinet - Pearl Harbor

Western High School
After Pearl Harbor

Western High School

Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmell, the Naval Commander in Chief of the U.S. Fleet and the Pacific Fleet, and a graduate from Western High (class of 1900) faced one of the greatest challenges of his career at Pearl Harbor.  Another Westerner, Captain Joseph K. Taussig, Jr., was the senior officer in charge on the USS Nevada on December 7, 1941. A corporal in Company K of the Western High Cadets in 1936, Captain Taussig refused to leave his station on the USS Nevada, although severely wounded.  He was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions.  Mildred Fish-Harnack, a 1919 graduate of Western High, was active in Germany in the resistance movement.  Hitler personally ordered her execution in 1943.

When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, Western High students, like the rest of America, found life defined by the war.  In early 1942, students gathered 7,000 books for soldiers in the nationwide Victory Book Drive, more than any other high school in the country.  Each book had a sticker glued inside the front cover that read:  “bearing the love and loyalty of the boys and girls of the Western High School.”  The War Bond drive over the next two years raised enough funds to purchase eleven Jeeps and one training plane. Guest speakers at school assemblies included members of the military and veterans of battles.

Western courses changed as well.  In conjunction with the Army Map Center, the school offered a course in map-making.  In the mechanical drawing course, boys made model airplanes built to military specifications to train airplane spotters.  To help Westerners prepare for military service, the school added more challenging math and physics courses, and based its aviation courses and radio courses on the requirements of the military.  The school adopted Army and Navy standards for physical fitness classes.  All students were required to take a nutrition course as it was considered a patriotic duty to eat right.

The Western Breeze was true to its mandate of reporting those things of interest to the student body.  Before the Pearl Harbor attack, Breeze reporters wrote articles about sports, dances, fashion, club meetings and Cadet competitions.  With the war, came change to The Breeze.  By 1943, Western High records noted:  “With the progress of the war, The Breeze has come to think of itself as one of the major war activities of the school.  Unless the paper can function in this capacity, there is no excuse for using in war time the materials, time and energy that go into the making of a school newspaper.”   Reporters’ assignment sheets included articles about air raids, victory gardens, food and gas ration books, scrap metal, paper, tinfoil, and rubber drives, sales of war bonds and stamps, sending boxes to prisoners of war at Thanksgiving, first aid training, and  interviews with men on furlough and war refugees.  And school dances?  Well, the Glen Miller band broke up in the fall of 1942 so that its leader, Glen Miller could enlist in the Army.  

One of the most popular columns in The Breeze, “Westerners at War,” kept track of news about Western students in the military.  By 1943, there were at least 1,123 Western alumnae on the comprehensive list, and sixteen of those were young women.  The Civil Air Patrol Cadets, part of the Air Division of the Victory Corps, counted among their number at least three Western girls who were taught to fly by Western High aviation teacher, Mrs. Robinson.  And it was two female students of Mrs. Robinson who wrote the “Flight Log” column about aviation in the Western Breeze.  In 1943, a Western High senior, Kathryn Atema soloed, after just eight hours of instruction, in a Piper Cub, and proclaimed her ambition to become a WASP.  Interestingly, although a pilot, she had never learned to drive due to the gas rationing.

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