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Posts Tagged ‘Alvin Peachman’

A reminder for Veterans Day. My classroom is gone now, but Mr. P is still with us, at 95. I hope the lessons stick with you, kids.-MR

 

the last generation

My 93 year old friend Alvin Peachman came into school on Friday. He was once a teacher at this same high school, and I was once his history student. Now he is in my first book, and it was one white haired old man interviewing another, before a polite and rapt audience of tenth and twelfth graders in my classroom. My friend Liza from the New York State United Teachers, who did a nice story on us for Veterans Day, also came up.

 

alvin 3

Alvin even brought in a fragment of the kamikaze plane that tried to do him in when it crashed into his ship, killing scores of his shipmates. As a radioman he would have been a target on the bridge of the ship, supporting the invasion of Okinawa, but he was not near that part of the ship when the suicide pilot struck that day.

Before the interview session began, I asked for a show of hands of the number of kids who knew of a World War II veteran, like Alvin, who was still alive. Two kids volunteered. Nearly thirty years ago, it was two hands in the air for every kid. And that is how this whole project got started.

Alvin was from a generation that knew firsthand of the Civil War veterans, and his father and his uncles were all veterans of the Western Front in World War I. He had a good day with the kids, and made them laugh on several occasions. But it got me to thinking. This is the last generation of kids to ever hear firsthand the stories of the most cataclysmic events in the history of the world, World War II and the Holocaust.

The students came up to Alvin after the lesson, some seeking his autograph, others just wanting to shake his hand and hang out a while longer with him. I think it made his day. I know it made theirs and it is not something they will soon forget- that they actually met a genuine World War II survivor and now have that tangible link to the past.

I hope it is not the last time, but they are certainly the last generation.

the last generation 4

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Vet tells his story: from Pearl Harbor to the classroom

by Liza Frenette

Alvin Peachman

Nineteen-year-old Alvin Peachman was playing pingpong when he heard about the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. His heart might have skipped a few beats, like a ping-pong ball skittering across the table. But it didn’t take too many heartbeats after that for him to enlist in the Navy.

“We heard the news on the radio. There was no TV then,” he told students at Hudson Falls High School recently. The idea of the U.S. Navy being so outrageously attacked seemed unthinkable.

“We thought it was a joke. Then, we heard President Roosevelt ask Congress for a Declaration of War. And I knew that I’d be in it,” Peachman said. “There was war fever. There were posters to inflame your patriotism.”

Always interested in history and geography, he said he knew right where Pearl Harbor was. Information about Pearl Harbor Day can be accessed in a free lesson plan at the American Federation of Teachers’ “Share My Lesson” site.

“I volunteered for the Navy. You had to be in perfect physical condition,” Peachman said.

At the time, he was working on the docks in New York City, where he’d come to find work away from the coal mines of Appalachia, where he grew up. He unloaded coffee on the piers. “I could rip the pier up!” he boasted.

It’s been a long time since Peachman was in front of a classroom, teaching students about history. But, at 93, he still lives just down the street from the small and rural Hudson Falls High School where he taught from 1951 to 1983. So he came on over recently to spend several hours with two classes of students, talking about his experiences during WWII. He fought in the Pacific Theater, which spilled out on a map behind him for students to see. A white-haired man with sparkling blue eyes, he sat comfortably in front of the students, wearing a brown cardigan, telling them how he slept in a hammock on his ship with 50 men in a room the size of their classroom.

He showed them a metal chunk from a kamikaze plane that attacked the U.S.S. Witter, a destroyer escort ship off Okinawa. Peachman worked as a radio operator and barely escaped death. Students marveled at the piece of history.

Peachman earned $21 a month for his service in the military, but he had to pay $6.50 of that for insurance because, he recalled, “If you got killed and didn’t have insurance, your mother got nothing.”

His service included fighting in the Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, the Marshall Islands and New Zealand. When fighting on land, he said his helmet served as a wash basin to shave and wash. Many comrades got malaria or other tropical diseases. “You’d get dysentery and be so sick, you wish you were dead,” he said.

Sometimes he was “10,000 to 12,000 miles away from anywhere on the ship,” he said. He crossed the equator a half dozen times and lived through a typhoon, where waves slammed the ships sideways. People had to be tied down so they didn’t get washed away. More than a thousand lives were lost during the two-week storm, Peachman said.

Those weren’t the only challenges.

“I saw no girls for two years and that bothered me,” he said, as students laughed with him. “You go nuts!”

He got out of the service on a Friday and enrolled in college in New York City the following Monday. “I studied like a bulldog,” he said. He worked on Wall Street and then for Western Electric, but his commute was long and he found the city crowded. He went to New York University to get his history degree, and then found a listing for a teaching job in Hudson Falls.

“When they told me the train fare was $15, I almost collapsed,” he said, breaking out into a huge smile.

His host for the day at the school was Matt Rozell, who used to be Peachman’s student. Now, Rozell has written a book, The Things Our Fathers Saw (The Untold Stories of the WWII Generation from Hometown USA — which includes interviews with Peachman and many other veterans. Peachman also passed around a book with photos of his bombed out ship and pictures of his comrades.

“This book will help to remind those who are young and who are living in today’s confused world, that freedom is not free,” Peachman said.

http://blogs.nysut.org/blog/2015/12/07/pearl-harbor-attack-prompted-dockworker-to-enlist-retired-vet-and-teacher-tells-students/

 

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the last generation

My 93 year old friend Alvin Peachman came into school on Friday. He was once a teacher at this same high school, and I was once his history student. Now he is in my first book, and it was one white haired old man interviewing another, before a polite and rapt audience of tenth and twelfth graders in my classroom. My friend Liza from the New York State United Teachers, who did a nice story on us for Veterans Day, also came up.

 

alvin 3

Alvin even brought in a fragment of the kamikaze plane that tried to do him in when it crashed into his ship, killing scores of his shipmates. As a radioman he would have been a target on the bridge of the ship, supporting the invasion of Okinawa, but he was not near that part of the ship when the suicide pilot struck that day.

Before the interview session began, I asked for a show of hands of the number of kids who knew of a World War II veteran, like Alvin, who was still alive. Two kids volunteered. Nearly thirty years ago, it was two hands in the air for every kid. And that is how this whole project got started.

Alvin was from a generation that knew firsthand of the Civil War veterans, and his father and his uncles were all veterans of the Western Front in World War I. He had a good day with the kids, and made them laugh on several occasions. But it got me to thinking. This is the last generation of kids to ever hear firsthand the stories of the most cataclysmic events in the history of the world, World War II and the Holocaust.

The students came up to Alvin after the lesson, some seeking his autograph, others just wanting to shake his hand and hang out a while longer with him. I think it made his day. I know it made theirs and it is not something they will soon forget- that they actually met a genuine World War II survivor and now have that tangible link to the past.

I hope it is not the last time, but they are certainly the last generation.

the last generation 4

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My post last week made the rounds, was read about 500 times, and was published in its entirety by the Chronicle newspaper in Glens Falls. And I meant every word.

Chronicle

The book is doing quite well. If you have read it and would like to help push it to the next level, please stop by and leave a review at my Amazon site.

Today Mr. Peachman and I will be back out at the Sandy Hill Farmers’ Market from 10 to 1. Come on out and see us!

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Upcoming events are also listed below:

Sunday, Oct. 11 (weather permitting)
10am-1pm
Hudson Falls, NY
Sandy Hill Farmers Market
Juckett Park, Hudson Falls, NY 12839

October 16, 2015- For Teachers- REGISTER TODAY
Saratoga Springs, NY
39th Annual Civics & Law-Related Education Conference
New York State Bar Association
Law, Youth and Citizenship Program
Human Rights Challenges: Past and Present
“American GIs and Human Rights Violations: Combat Soldiers Confront the Holocaust”

www.nysba.org/LYC39Registration

Nov. 5, 2015
Toronto, Canada
Lecture/Presentation
“Through the Eyes of Liberators: History Comes to Life”
UJA Federation of Greater Toronto
Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre
Holocaust Education Week

November 8, 2015
11-3 pm
Glens Falls, NY
The Chronicle Book Fair
Queensbury Hotel
88 Ridge St, Glens Falls, NY 12801

Sunday, November 15
2 pm
Glens Falls, NY
Book Talk/Signing
“Coming Home: Reflections on the 70th Anniversary the End of World War II”
The Hyde Collection
Warren St. Glens Falls, NY 12801

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I brought copies of my recently published book with me to the inaugural Sandy Hill Farmers’ Market on a beautiful autumn Sunday, not knowing what I was in for.

I was wiped out and overwhelmed.

I wound up talking to hundreds of people.  Some I did not know, but most I could place from somewhere in my life in being a part of this amazing community. I introduced myself to people that I should know, but who for some reason, I never crossed paths with. And to think the Market was orchestrated by former students who I remember very well, Joelle Timms and Jenny Demers. I am proud of them and their commitment to moving the town forward-and it’s just so comforting to know that the kids you had in class are now the leaders in making the future.

Matt Rozell at the Sandy Hill Farmers' Market. 9-26-2015. Portrait by Kendall McKernon.

Matt Rozell at the Sandy Hill Farmers’ Market. 9-27-2015. Grading papers before the rush. Portrait by Kendall McKernon.

I finally got to connect with Kendall McKernon, who has been trumpeting my work and is a major force himself in promoting the revitalization of this town. Be sure to pick up some of his amazing work in the following weeks as the Market continues every Sunday until November.

Some of my former students are now veterans themselves, Army, Marines, Air Force, and Navy, and came out to reconnect again and express their appreciation—and some parents whose kids could not make it because they are somewhere in the field today, stopped by to get a book for them. World War II veterans I did not know before came out to chat with me and Pacific veteran Alvin Peachman, especially Phil Battiste, who wanted to tell me he read my book THREE times and knew just about everyone featured in the book! I asked him if I got it right—he told me I was on top of my game. Phil told me he knew my late father very well and could place him and his family in the childhood house they lived in near him on the corner, during the Great Depression.

My best hometown friend’s mom came out to get a book and reminded me that I escorted her down the aisle at his wedding to his bride 32 Septembers ago- and Dolores was just was beaming with pride. Later, the still lovely bride stood in line patiently to get a book and reminded me that we need to see each other soon! My preschool teacher from 50 years ago came out to say hi, and I joked with a woman whose face I could just about place, and when she said that she was one of my former teachers, I immediately recited her first, last, and married name. I knew this because she was one of my first crushes and she married the year she had me in her elementary class. I told her she was still beautiful. She picked up two books.

My cousin, whom I have not seen in years, stopped by, picking up books for the family. She filled me in on her genealogy research and sent her son to get coffee for me, and restocked the books that Alvin and I signed, and helped keep us organized as a line began to form. My wife stopped in after Mass, and ran to the truck to get more books. My parents’ friends were there. Mom and Dad passed on ten and fifteen years ago, and seeing people I remember fondly from my own days of being raised right here brings my folks right back to the forefront of memory with a warm bath of affection and love that today was impossible to overlook.

Then, there was the girl (woman! mother!) who told me she is in her 7th year teaching at a nearby school, with her own sister teaching in an adjoining classroom! I remembered S. as being very happy and fun in class, and congratulated her on becoming a teacher, because I even in high school I could sense that she would  make the world a better place just by the sheer force of her ‘good will to others’ presence. I wish I paid a little more attention to the little one who was with her, but she kind of struck me when she volunteered that I was the reason she was a teacher. We had never had that kind of conversation in the classroom—but that is the way it works, and I am lucky enough to hear this later in life, rather than eavesdropping at my wake! Just a few weeks ago, a young man from my first year of trying to survive as a teacher came out to my first book talk and raised his hand when I called for a show of hands of former students in the room. I could not place him right at that moment, but later, when he told me his first name, I could spell ‘Ehren’ correctly as if it was 28 years ago. He teaches history in Albany, and told me I was the reason for that…

But of all the wonderful blasts from the past, tugging at my subconscious was the presence of the young woman who was standing back and watching me sign a book for her friend (one of my former students, now a combat Marine veteran of the Iraq war, with whom I was chatting away and really enjoying getting to know again). She was quiet, in the background, but smiling as T. and I talked, and just kind of gazing at me in a special way. I knew that I knew her, but just couldn’t place it—so I finally asked her. And it all came flooding back, when she spoke her first name. Half a lifetime away, at an immensely difficult time in her life, I had reached out to her and taken her under my wing while she struggled through and worked to regain some balance as a sixteen year old. We did not speak of it, but before she left she stepped forward because she said she had to give me a hug.

When I see my brother, who lives in Alaska, once a year, when it is time to part, he puts his arms around me and squeezes me hard, in silence. So it is. I did a lot of hugs today, but she got the hardest squeeze, in silence. Bless you, C. So it seems that ‘Repairing the World’ has turned out to be a theme in my life’s work, and in most teachers I know, but in truth, it starts at home, and it works both ways. Bless everyone who has played a part of and enriched my life in so many different ways.

I write about the feeling I have for my hometown in the introduction of the book. I have been moved and shaped in so many ways by the veterans, by the people who came out today, and the hometown folks who could not make it. I hope the book is but a small token of my appreciation, and if you read the book, you will see it is my attempt to give back, but also pay it forward for the younger crowd who step up and make the vision real.

Mr. Peachman had a great day, and was on the receiving end of many hugs himself. He knew just about everyone who saw him, and held his own court in the temple of the Hudson Falls Farmers’ Market. Thank you Joelle for asking me, and Jenny, who did so much, and all the others with a vision for this small town on the Hudson that we all call home, no matter how far we have wandered. So I remember the words:

I cannot forget where it is that I come from.

A small town.

Matt Rozell and Alvin Peachman at the Sandy Hill Farmers' Market. 9-27--2015. Portrait by Kendall McKernon.

Matthew Rozell and veteran Alvin Peachman, 9-27–2015. Photo by Kendall McKernon.

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Veterans book

History teacher and author Matt Rozell, right, talks with World War II veteran and former history teacher Alvin Peachman at a book signing Sept. 11 on LaBarge Street in Hudson Falls. Peachman is one of several veterans featured in ‘The Things Our Fathers Saw.’ Ashleigh Abreu photo.

YOU CAN ORDER THE BOOK HERE

September 22, 2015 7:00 am •  by RHONDA TRILLER

HUDSON FALLS | Matt Rozell remembers the moment he realized his life’s work.

It was 1984, and as the nation marked the 40th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, President Ronald Reagan spoke at Normandy.

“Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for,” he said of the Americans who fought in World War II, during an iconic speech.

That year, “The Good War: An Oral History of World War Two” by Studs Terkel was published. In it, Terkel looked at the war from a historical perspective, told through some 120 interviews with the men who fought, as well as nurses, entertainers and bureaucrats. Terkel was awarded the 1985 Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction for the work.

“It was the first historical piece on World War II entirely told by regular people,” Rozell said, recalling the 600-page book was “this thick,” holding his thumb and index finger inches apart.

The book raised an interesting question about war, Rozell said.

“The war was put on a pedestal — it should be, especially now that so few of the men are left — but is any war good?” he said. “It was a fascinating book.”

“That’s when I woke up and that’s when my teaching career began,” Rozell said. “I think that’s when it finally dawned on me how important World War II was in history and in the fabric of our own country here, let alone the world.”

Rozell did, in fact, become a teacher — history, of course — at his alma mater, Hudson Falls High School.

But as important, he has devoted his life since to telling the stories of World War II veterans.

This summer, Rozell independently published “The Things Our Fathers Saw: The Untold Stories of the World War II Generation from Hometown USA.”

“I’ve thought about it for 20 years,” he said. “I was at that point, I had to get it out of me.”

The book recounts the war in the Pacific Theater, told from interviews and, in some cases, journal entries, of men from the Glens Falls area.

“The Things Our Fathers Saw” works through the war, beginning with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, following some of the men from enlistment, through battles and being taken prisoners of war. He includes lectures from veterans visiting his classroom, photographs and maps.

“It’s a war that, outside of Pearl Harbor and the dropping of atomic bombs, very few people have an understanding of what happened in the Pacific Theater,” Rozell said.

At a recent book signing, Rozell sat next to Alvin Peachman, 93, one of the veterans featured in the book.

Peachman is a longtime Hudson Falls resident and retired history teacher, who had Rozell as a student.

His classes were much different than Rozell’s, though.

“I don’t remember any teachers talking about their own experiences,” Peachman said, adding that he didn’t talk much about his service until years later. “Everybody wanted to learn about Adolf Hitler.”

Rozell studied history at SUNY Geneseo, but didn’t realize how much of a gap in knowledge the American public suffered until he started interviewing veterans and chronicling their stories.

“My interest was what Al Peachman was talking about when I was in school — Adolf Hitler this and Adolf Hitler that,” Rozell said.

“When you call for World War II stories and these people are talking about things you don’t know a thing about, you realize you have so much more to learn,” he said. “It’s the experience of a lot of Americans, I think.”

Rozell now teaches a separate course at Hudson Falls High School focused on World War II. The class is so popular, some students can’t get in.

Vinny Murphy, a senior, is among the lucky ones this semester. He wanted to take the class after attending a Rozell-organized assembly as a middle-schooler.
“For him to be a teacher and have an interest and want to share that with the students is very refreshing,” Murphy said. “He wants to teach us and remember this stuff and really take it to heart and make sure stuff like this never happens again.”

Until Rozell, Peachman said, the men who served in the Pacific got little recognition.

“We always fell second to Europe, although we did almost all the fighting in the Pacific,” he said.

As World War II veterans age — two of the men featured in Rozell’s book died in the past few weeks — Rozell is feeling a sense of urgency.

“I really wanted to get it out while some of the guys are still alive,” he said.

The book is a culmination of efforts that began years ago, when Rozell started inviting World War II veterans into his classroom in the early 1990s.

“It was really a two-fold thing: I need to make history alive for my kids; it’s their grandparents, their aunts, their uncles, in some cases, their actual parents who were involved in the war; and take that person’s story and find out more how this person fits into the big picture of the war, the big overall standard history, but at the same time realize that you as the interviewer, or the person talking to the adult, you are actually creating a new piece of history, which is really exciting,” Rozell said.

Students’ interest grew even more when, in 2001, Rozell initiated a living history project, A Train Near Madgeburg, in which he and his students reunited Holocaust survivors and the American soldiers who liberated them from a death train in April 1945.

“I think for most teachers … that’s why you teach, to bring history alive and, boy, did that ever do it for them,” Rozell said.

Rozell and his students were named People of the Week in September 2009 by Diane Sawyer on “ABC World News” for their work on the project.

The liberation is the subject of Rozell’s next book, which is tentatively scheduled for release in the summer of 2016.

“My story is to make it known,” Rozell said. “It’s their story; it’s in their words.

“I need to do it before everybody is gone.”

http://poststar.com/news/local/rozell-recounts-war-through-veterans-eyes/article_2ce81fd2-6d9c-55f2-8087-74e85834f741.html

History teacher and author Matthew Rozell has several speaking engagements lined up throughout the area, including:

Sunday: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sandy Hill Farmers Market, Juckett Park, Hudson Falls

Oct. 16: 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., 39th annual Civics & Law-Related Education Conference, Saratoga Springs Holiday Inn

Oct. 21: 7 p.m., book signing/reading, Chapman Historical Museum, 348 Glen St., Glens Falls

Nov. 8: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., The Chronicle Autumn Leaves Book Fair, Queensbury Hotel, 88 Ridge St., Glens Falls

Nov. 15: 2 p.m., book signing and talk, The Hyde Collection, 161 Warren St., Glens Falls

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Mr. Peachman and author, at debut book signing, Aug. 8, 2015. Mary Rozell photo.

As the book  ‘The Things Our Fathers Saw ‘ went to press, I was contacted by the Japan’s largest news wire service, “with over 50 million subscribers worldwide, publishing articles in Japanese, English, Chinese and in Korean…” They wanted a veteran’s “reflections as we approach the 70th anniversary of the double bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki” (which he offers in the book, Chapter 13, ‘The Kamikazes’). So, seventy years after the war, Mr. Peachman got to address the Japanese people. The story is below. I called him to ask him how it went.

Mr. Peachman: “It was very nice, the reporter was happy to speak to me. I told her, ‘I hope you have an hour or two.’ We had many things in common- I had traveled to Japan several times after the war, and we knew of the same places. I told her, you can’t say that you feel the same as you did, 70 years later. During World War II, the Japanese would fight to the death. I honestly felt that the bomb was necessary to end the war, though I feel that President Roosevelt made a mistake by demanding unconditional surrender. And I have questions about how and when the bomb was used. But make no mistake, the coming land invasion of Japan would have been a bloodbath.”

Mr. Peachman and author, at debut book signing, Aug. 8, 2015. Article in Japanese in foreground. Mary Rozell photo.

Mr. Peachman and author, at debut book signing, Aug. 8, 2015. Article in Japanese in foreground. Mary Rozell photo.

NEXT LOCAL AUTHOR APPEARANCE/EVENT:
• BOOK SIGNING AND TALK-Sunday, August 23, 7:00 pm:
The Glen at Hiland Meadows, 39 Longview Drive, Queensbury, NY 12804

From the Kyodo Japanese News Service :
Thank you so very much for all of your help and for putting us in touch with Mr. Peachman. As I explained to you both it was part of a series of short interviews conducted with people from around the world on the subject of views on the atomic bomb.
In addition to Mr. Peachman, whose comments we wrote about, we also spoke with a third generation Japanese American in LA, a former factory worker in Beijing, a female university student in Seoul, a high school teacher in Hong Kong who was involved in the protest movements, a former office worker in Germany, a Professor Emeritus from Israel, a young Iranian whose parent was a writer and a former preacher from Scotland.
We are so appreciative of our conversation with Mr. Peachman and because of the importance of what he said, he was mentioned at the top. Please see the Japanese article with the mark indicating the part where he spoke.
In Summary: we simply explained that many in the U.S. believe that the atomic bomb was necessary to help save lives and that Mr. Peachman was aboard a ship off Okinawa when it was attacked by Kamikaze planes. He lost some of his crew mates and upon hearing the news that the bomb was dropped was relieved because he did not think that he would have survived another encounter with the Japanese. Although he is saddened by the deaths that occurred in Hiroshima he did believe that it did save lives.
I hope this is helpful to you and please pass along our appreciation to Mr. Peachman and we also thank you so much for putting us in touch with him.
Please see the attached file.
Best regards,
S. M.

*************************************************************

Matthew Rozell’s career as a history teacher is now spanning four decades. Over the course of the past 20 years, he and his students conducted hundreds of interviews with the World War II generation. One such interview led to the reuniting of a train transport of Holocaust survivors with their American liberators, over 60 years later. He is currently working on a trilogy of narrative histories based on these interviews.

His first book, a narrative of World War II in the Pacific as told through the previously unpublished recollections of over 30 veterans, was released in August. It is available here.  His second book, in progress, is on the power of  teaching, remembering the Holocaust, and the real story behind the  iconic photo of the “Train Near Magdeburg’. He can be reached at his Facebook page at Author Matthew Rozell or by commenting below.

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