Documentary covers ‘Children of Pearl’

By John Montgomery (original article written for The Focus)

BOWLING GREEN — They are almost a forgotten footnote in the history of the day that will live in infamy, but two northwest Ohio men are hoping to share the story with the world.

Glenn Burris and Jerry Sisser of the Ohio television production group Home Stand are in the midst of creating a documentary about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

But while countless previous projects and movies have focused on the reason for the attack, the actions of the military and governments on both sides during the encounter and how it thrust America into war, Burris and Sisser are highlighting a unique angle.

“Children of Pearl” recounts the memories of the sons and daughters of U.S. military stationed in Hawaii who woke up one Sunday morning on the frontline of war.

“I see it with a lot of educational value for museums and schools,” said Sisser, a retired Fostoria High teacher. “We’re looking at a piece of history that really changed the world, and we’re looking at it through the point of view of people who were very young at the time.

“It’s an excellent opportunity for a teacher to use this as an historical discussion of how life changes so quickly,” he said. “These kids were living the ideal life before this.”

The idea for the documentary has been growing for a while, and has a personal attachment to Burris, a 1982 Fostoria High graduate. He is married to the daughter of Anne Shambaugh, who was about 6 when the attack occurred.

Shambaugh’s mother was driving her father, a Navy commander named Joe Hubbard, to his ship for duty on Dec. 7, 1941, when the attack began.

However, they didn’t realize an attack was underway — Burris and Sisser said the sight and sound of planes and bombs exploding in the distance were common for training — until a Japanese pilot fired on them, putting a bullet through the windshield.

Hubbard raced to his ship, the U.S.S. San Francisco, and his wife returned home to their children, Anne and a younger son named Joe. The family never saw Hubbard again.

He and the ship survived the attack, but Hubbard was killed in 1942 during another attack at sea.

The family was evacuated a few weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on Christmas Day, and Burris said his mother-in-law didn’t return to Hawaii until a few years ago when her brother introduced her to a group of fellow child survivors.

“It’s a rather loose organization, but there are a number of them across the country …,” Burris said.

“They attached themselves to an organization called the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors, which of course they are, but they have a unique perspective because they were actually there, whereas the vast majority of SDPHS members were born in the ‘50s, maybe,” he said.

Now in her 70s, Shambaugh is one of approximately 150 surviving Children of Pearl whose lives were forever changed by the attack.

Of the dozen already interviewed, several involve harrowing encounters.

One was a 4-year-old boy when the attack occurred, but he still has a bullet fired from a Japanese plane. His mother was standing in their doorway when the pilot fired. The bullet gouged a track in the sidewalk, ending just short of where she stood.

Another survivor has part of an anti-aircraft shell, fired by the Americans, that came down near his home.

Still another remembers a piece of the U.S.S. Arizona landing in her yard after the ship exploded.

One recounts what his family went through to reach safety — by driving through a battle zone.

Joe Estores and his seven brothers and sisters lived in the residential area of Hickam Air Force Base, which was surrounded on three sides by the facility.

When the attack began, their mother put them all in the car and tried to evacuate, but what roads weren’t destroyed were filled with military vehicles, so she struck out across the airbase’s runways while it was under attack.

Along with escaping the bombers and fighter planes, the family had to evade a burning member of the U.S. military because letting him in the car would have killed them all.

While some fled to other parts of the island, some remained in their homes after getting quick instructions on how to load and fire weapons.

Their ordeal didn’t end when the attack did.

Authorities feared another attack and rumors of frogmen invaders and spies spread across the island, Burris and Sisser said.

“There could be another documentary based just on the rumors that went around after Dec. 7,” Burris said.

Those who weren’t evacuated to the mainland right away were put to work preparing for another attack.

When they were transported back to the states, not everyone went to the same place. Friendships with other children and other families were lost, and pets had to be abandoned.

The documentary covers it all — life before, during and after the attack for those who remained on the island and those who were evacuated.

“Many of these people have been asked individually to speak at schools and presentations and to some local media,” Sisser said. “Obviously this would be different, this would be a collection of their memories, but presented not just as individuals, but as a collective memory.

“One of the goals that we have is to kind of get to the bottom of what did happen and what didn’t,” Burris added. “I don’t know if we’re uncovering new revelations, but there’s probably a little more truth to some of the rumors, the little stuff, than some of the stories that have already been documented because so many of these people haven’t been asked anything.

“When they’ve done research on Pearl Harbor, who do they always ask? The military every time,” he said.

More information about the project and snippets of what’s been completed so far can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/childrenofpearl,http://childrenofpearl.wordpress.com/, http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/childrenofpearl/children-of-pearl-second-campaign and http://www.facebook.com/childrenofpearl.

The project officially began in April 2010 with the first interview, with another following that summer before a trip to Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7. There, Burris and Sisser met with SDPHS members and conducted more interviews.

Burris and Sisser hope to interview at least another dozen survivors, as well as speak with historians and a child psychologist for the documentary, but funding has become an issue.

Burris and Sisser have already spent about $20,000 of their own money on the project.

They hope to raise another $48,000 with the help of a group called Kickstarter.com. However, the $48,000 must be raised by June 3 or the project won’t receive any money from Kickstarter.com.

The money would cover expenses for filming, equipment and travel for interviews.

“We are really looking for funds to finish this,” Sisser said. “I think it’s a worthwhile project and I hope others think the same way.”

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