POINT PLEASANT — December 7, 1941.
Americans know this date as the day World War II came to the United States, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. While that date stands out for those who experienced this time in history first hand, children today have to learn about that period from history books and teachers, and from speakers like Becky Park.
On Thursday, Park, who works with the WV Humanities Council Character Program, spoke with the fifth and sixth grade students of Roosevelt Elementary School, partly as herself, and partly as Colonel Ruby Bradley. Bradley, who was from Spencer, West Virginia, is known as the most decorated woman in United States Military History. She worked as an army nurse at Camp John Hay in the Philippines, and was captured by the Japanese three weeks following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
In 1943, Bradley was moved to the Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manila, and she provided medical care for the other prisoners. She often hid food in her pockets, which she would give to starving children, going hungry herself. As she lost weight, she used the extra room in her uniform to smuggle surgical equipment and medical supplies for the other prisoners. While at the camp, she assisted in 230 surgeries and helped deliver 13 children. U.S. Troops liberated the camp on February 3, 1945, and Bradley weighed a total of 86 pounds. Bradley also served in the Korean War, and was promoted to Colonel in 1958. Over her military career, she received 34 medals and citations of bravery. Bradley passed away in 2002, at the age of 94, and is buried in Arlington Cemetery.
Park stated she has been working for the Humanities Council for around 10 years now, and in addition to Bradley, has also portrayed a few other people. She has portrayed Sudnar Tanner, the wife of Samuel Tanner, who were the first white people to settle in Spencer, and she has also been Rebecca Boone, the wife of Daniel Boone.
Another interesting aspect of Parks’ presentation is that she starts out as herself, not the character. The students meet her, and she sets the scene of when the character was alive and where it is in relation to other historical events.
“I want them to understand that I’m not her,” Park said about becoming Ruby Bradley. Today, Bradley would be 104 years old.
Julie Bibbee, Social Studies teacher at Roosevelt Elementary, stated she wrote for the Teaching West Virginia History Grant in order to allow Park to come and speak with her students. Bibbee went on to say she is required to cover information regarding World War II in her classroom, which is another reason she had Park come, since Bradley was alive, and served during WWII.
“It gives you a lens to view history through,” Park said about the character program. She added that when students are able to connect history to a specific person, like Ruby Bradley, they can have a better understanding of what it was like in the past and what it was like for the people who experienced it.