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Veterans bring history to life for Pitman students
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World War II veteran Jim Sanders talks to Pitman students about his experiences as an ambulance driver during the war during a visit to the school on Thursday. Sanders was at Utah Beach during D-Day. - photo by JONATHAN MCCORKELL / The Journal

Any historian will tell you that the best way to get the most accurate account of a story is straight from the horse’s mouth — the people that lived it.  For hundreds of Pitman High School students history came alive Thursday during a special visit from World War II and Vietnam veterans promoting peace, historical awareness and appreciation of the United States.

Jim Sanders, an 86-year-old WWII vet, put the significance of the day’s visit into perspective.

“We’re here today because we’re still alive,” he joked. “An average of 2,000 WWII veterans are dying each day across the U.S. and the window of opportunity is closing, there isn’t very many of us left,” Sanders later added.

Sanders served as an ambulance driver with the Third Army during WW II. He told students and teachers stories of his experiences in Europe and his accounts of helping to evacuate a concentration camp in Germany.

“When we got there we picked up bodies from the fields. The Nazis tried to eliminate them (Jews) and get rid of them because they would be evidence, but they couldn’t because there were so many of them.”

Another WWII veteran, Dee Rowe, was also on hand to address Pitman students. Rowe served as an Army Air Corp pilot of B-29 Bombers. Rowe flew bombing missions over Japan. In the days following the end of the war Rowe flew his plane and crew over Hiroshima to see the damage, which he compared to the level of devastation caused by the current flooding of the Mississippi River in Southern states.

In addition to hearing reflections from Rowe and Sanders, students had an opportunity to meet veterans with the Commemorative Air Force Squadron- Modesto, whose mission is to: “Preserve the past for the next century.” The Atwater Aviation Museum also attended the event.

With a back drop of nostalgic military jeeps and a replica WW II ambulance, students appreciated the opportunity for history to come alive.

For Pitman juniors David Lloyd and Makenna Hanson the event was the culmination of a long project. The two teamed up with film students from CSU Stanislaus to record a YouTube video on Sanders known as “Echoes of Truth Holocaust Interview: Jim Sanders Liberator.”

Sanders was recently honored by Assemblyman Bill Berryhill and the State of California as the 26th Assembly District honoree to the 2011 California Holocaust Memorial Project. Sanders published a book about his experiences titled, “Saving Lives, Saving Memories.”

“I feel like the luckiest history teacher in the state right now. This is right in line with their World and U.S. History requirements and this is invaluable. It has been a chance for this generation to hear from the ‘Greatest Generation.’  I’ve had students here today moved to tears,” said Pitman history teacher Stephen Montgomery.

“This has been awesome. I personally enjoy WWII history and this has totally made history come alive for me,” said senior Demetria Jacob.

To see Sanders video, visit

To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail jmccorkell@turlockjournal or call 634-9141, ext 2015.