This is my dad, Col. Ralph (Rocky) Thomas Tierno, Jr. As long as I can remember back to childhood, my dad would tell his stories about Pearl Harbor. He was a survivor of Pearl Harbor, and one of the oldest survivors. He was my connection to history and when he retired he wanted to relax, rest, and tend to his vegetable garden as he had given his country his all. He was often celebrated at the US Army War College in Carlisle, PA.; outside the USAWC Post where he had retired with my mom in a beautiful home.
My dad was at Pearl Harbor the day it was attacked by the Japanese. He was at the 7:00 A.M. Catholic mass. Getting ready to leave he heard many airplanes flying overhead. He thought that it must be the American planes since he knew they were bringing in supplies. As he walked out the door, he was grabbed by a few soldiers and thrown into the back of a jeep. They told him that the fleet of ships in port were being attacked. He was going to go to meet his buddies from Jersey for breakfast on the USS Arizona. Instead the soldiers hauled him off to an antiaircraft position and told to shoot and don’t stop.
In 2007, he helped me with an artifact project with my third-grade bilingual students, with pictures, newspaper articles, and more. We read about the US History during the 1940’s. I asked my dad if he could help me with any ideas and artifacts. He sent me a big box with maps, stories, articles and pictures.
Before opening our box, which sat waiting squarely in the middle of the classroom, I prepared the class with all kids of history lessons; old movies, and notations from the Social Studies book. As we learned about this historical event, I gave the children index cards, and asked them to write a single question on each one of the cards. This went on for a few days. I found the movie Pearl Harbor, you know the one with Ben Affleck. We watched 30 seconds to one-minute clips for a few days and had big circle talks about what that must have been like. We built so much background literacy.
Then one day, I placed the box that had arrived from my father, Col. Tierno, in the middle of the big circle. I asked if we would like to see what one of those survivors, now 84 years old, sent to help us learn. The look on their faces and the sounds they made were amazing.
We opened the box, and as it opened, the students were getting very close to the box. They wanted to touch the box. They wanted to feel what was inside. They wanted to ‘feel’ a part of history. Amazed, I opened it wide and out poured a large number of news clippings, real black and white pictures, and more: There was a letter from my dad to the students. Before I let them sort through everything, I read them his short letter. I cried, and they asked why. I noted to them that my dad had a brilliant memory and wanted to pass it on to the children. The students started pulling out items from the box, maps, articles, pictures, and more. They unknowingly were standing in groups of 3-4 around our tables and touching the items and talking about what they saw. I stood back and was astonished.
Bringing history to life for these students did not stop there. After a week or more of perusing all that we had, I then asked them to take another index card and write three questions. We were going to call my dad and interview him, talk to him and find out what he could in real life share with us. The excitement was overwhelming as you can imagine.
The day came. We had our three questions on a card. We walked in a line down to a conference room in the office area, where a speakerphone had been set up. Dad came on the phone and the first child started their questions. All of the children were gathered round the table were now listening in wonder around the table.
The chatter that day around the school and especially at lunch was all about the interview. Over the past few weeks, I had given them a learning memory; a real live artifact, oral history. I could only hope they remember.