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Clermont Park residents brought World War II to life for more than 200 students of Denver’s South High School. CBS-4 reported on this memorable event:

The Denver Post sent reporter Tom McGhee to capture this remarkable story:

Three World War II veterans brought the grim reality of that conflict to South High School Wednesday, giving some social studies students a view of war beyond the dry accounts in their textbooks.

From Harold Haberman’s tales of mass suicides by Japanese civilians on Saipan and Carl Hammergren’s stories of kamikaze pilots diving into American ships, to Earl Lammers’ description of loading tons of munitions onto planes, it was a living history lesson, said Lyric Lovejoy, 17.

“This was inspirational for me,” said the self-described history nerd. “I learned way more with what they were telling me than from what is written in a textbook.”

The three men now live at Clermont Park, a Denver retirement community.

Haberman, 92, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1941, shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. His division fought its way through the Pacific theater, engaging the Japanese on Guadalcanal, Tinian, Saipan, Okinawa and other remote islands.

What happened on the island of Saipan, at Marpi Point, where 800-foot cliffs dive straight to the sea, is burned into his memory, Haberman said.

The battle for the island was bloody and often fought hand-to-hand. “When we hit the island we fought across until it got dark and we would dig a fox hole and get in and you didn’t get out until it was day-light,” Haberman said.

Japanese civilians, who moved to Saipan after World War I, had been told by their government that if taken by American troops, they would be subject to rape, torture and murder.

In the last days of battle the Marines reached the northern tip of the island, where cliffs towered above the sea. An estimated 1,000 civilians leaped off the cliffs rather than fall into American hands.

“After we fought to get to the end of the island, the last few Japanese left brought some women down with babies,” Haberman said. “They would throw their babies from the cliff and then they would follow them.”

The Marines were too far from the jumpers to save them, he said.

Eight years after the war, Haberman woke one morning frightened and trembling, he said. But it wasn’t until the 1970s, after the Vietnam war ended, that he was diagnosed with post traumatic stress, a disorder he still lives with.

“PTSD didn’t exist after WWII,” he said. “I didn’t want anyone to know I had PTSD. The Marines are supposed to be tough.”

Carl Hammergren, 91, was an ensign in the U.S. Navy, and served on a LST, an acronym for landing ship tank, that the sailors jokingly called a Large, Slow, Target, he said.

He too served in the Pacific where his ship carried vehicles, cargo and troops onto beaches under heavy fire from the enemy.

He was a gunnery officer, directing fire as the ship made the perilous journey through shelling from shore positions and bombing and strafing from planes circling above.

During the invasion of Okinawa, a Japanese kamikaze pilot dived into an LST that was making its way to the beach alongside Hammergren’s ship.

He and other members of his crew boarded the crippled vessel to help the survivors. It was the first time he had seen an enemy plane with its nose buried in the deck of an American ship, he said.

He looked at the tire on a landing wheel. The words “Made in Akron, Ohio,” were embossed in the rubber, he said.

Hammergren visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki weeks after atomic bombs were dropped. “There was nothing there,” he said.

Lammers, 92, was a sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Corps during the war in Italy. He was stationed near the city of Pisa at an air field behind the front lines, he said.

He loaded bombs, ammunition and machine guns aboard planes that supported the legendary 10th Mountain Division as it fought to dislodge German and Italian soldiers from mountainous terrain.

His was a job that allowed little room for mistakes. Mess up while moving munitions, he said, and the result can be a fatal explosion.

Student Michael Mendiola, 18, said the veterans’ stories made him feel closer to his grandfather, who also served in the war.

“It really did make me think about what really happened during that time, and what my grandfather went through,” he said.

Lammers said he was glad to have the chance to share his experiences with young students who should know the past as they move into the future.

“We are a generation that is fading fast, we are on the way out,” he said. “They can read about it in books but when they hear about it like this, it is more meaningful to them.”

Here are links to Denver news sources that also covered this story: ABC News-7 and NBC News-9.

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