Should World War II history be taught to young children?

A 22-year-old United Kingdom reality TV star sparked controversy recently when he said U.K. students should concentrate on learning about such things as climate change, Brexit and how to save for a mortgage rather than learn about the history of World War II. Freddie Bentley told a TV panel that focusing on conflicts such as World War II puts a mental strain on children.

“I don’t think encouraging death or how many people died in a world war is going to help someone in the future,” he said. “I’m not saying get rid of it totally – but let go of it a little bit and replace it with a subject that is gonna be beneficial to us in the future.”

His remark drew a sharp rebuke from Sir Michael Wilshaw, who was also on the panel and former chief inspector of schools in England. He reminded Bentley that 50 million people lost their lives during World War II.

As we prepare to observed Veterans Day on Monday, it is important that we remember those men and women who have served our country. Yes, World War II was a horrible conflict. It is estimated that more than 400,000 Americans lost their lives during the war.

I can understand where Bentley is coming from in stating his beliefs. Yes, learning about climate change and how to save for a mortgage are important tools. But so is the history of how the Allies pulled together to fight to preserve our freedom.

As someone who was born in the 1940s, I’ve always been fascinated with books on World War II and the Korean War. In the past few months, I’ve read incredible books on World War II battles in the Pacific and the Korean War. Those books describe the awful conditions our military had to endure, including the toll those battles took on our soldiers – many of whom were just out of high school.

I served my country when I joined the Navy after graduating from high school. But I never had to endure the hardships that some of our men and women in the military had to endure. I was able to sleep in a comfortable bed each night. The Marines who fought in World War II, the Korean, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq wars didn’t always have that luxury.

Two examples of those horrendous hardships were the Battle of Attu during World War II and the Battle of Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War.

I had never heard of Attu until I read a book about the intense battle between American and Japanese troops, the first one on American soil. The battle began in 1942 after Japanese troops invaded the Attu, an American island near Alaska. Apparently, the Japanese thought the Doolittle Raid, which was launched from the USS Hornet, was launched by aircraft from Alaska. Japan wanted to prevent any more raids and they wanted to get a foothold on American soil.

We sent American soldiers to combat the Japanese. The Americans eventually prevailed, but not without significant suffering. Our troops not only had to endure Japanese troops who would refuse to surrender, but also wretched weather conditions. Many soldiers suffered cold weather illnesses, such as frostbite because their boots were not made for such awful weather conditions.

Just eight years later, our Marines had to endure another battle under terrible conditions at the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea.

U.S. Marines had been ordered to fight in North Korea in 1950 when they were confronted by a large contingent of Chinese soldiers who had secretly crossed the border into North Korea. The Marines were trapped, but through ingenuity maneuvers, were able to successfully withdraw from the battle. The battle was fought in extreme freezing temperatures.

The Chosin Reservoir battle also became famous for the role Tootsie Roll played in it.

As the fighting raged, the Marines radioed for more ammunition. The code name for the request was Tootsie Roll. The radio operator on the receiving end didn’t have a code book, but he knew the call was urgent, so he ordered pallets of Tootsie Rolls to be parachuted to the battle site.

Those Tootsie Rolls became lifesavers. Not only did they provide nourishment for very hungry Marines, they also were warmed and used to plug bullet holes in their tents.

The late Gary By of Grand Haven fought in that battle. I knew Gary and wished that I had known about his experiences. It would have been a wonderful story.

There, of course, have been many more battles in which Americans fought bravely to preserve our freedom. On Monday, we get to honor men and women who have served our country. Please remember our veterans on Monday.

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