Page content

Living History

July 09, 2012

As World War II veterans returned to the beaches where they fought and survived, they shared stories with the Ohio State students at their sides. Now those memories—entrusted to Buckeyes—live on.

For Ohio State history major and military history buff Kyle Nappi, it was a dream come true: eight days abroad, touring key WWII battle sites in the Pacific. From the sands of Iwo Jima to the atomic bomb pits on Tinian, the pages of history books came to life for students on the trip.

The eight undergraduates were well prepped thanks to history professors and trip leaders Peter Hahn and Peter Mansoor, a highly decorated officer with more than 26 years of distinguished military service. But the war was rendered vivid thanks to the Buckeyes’ special companions.

WWII veterans walked the battlegrounds with students, sharing personal accounts of what they witnessed there roughly seven decades ago.

“The privilege to go to such places of hallowed ground, especially with someone who fought there, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity--and an honor,” says Nappi. He was paired with 87-year-old Indianapolis native Jim Baize, who enlisted in the U.S. Navy when he was just 15 years old.

This three-pronged approach to learning--pre-trip studies, on-site exploration, and first-person accounts--made the experience truly memorable for all involved.

“This is a remarkable example of the power of study abroad to illuminate history and create an indelible learning opportunity for Ohio State students,” says President E. Gordon Gee. “It is also a testament to some wonderfully creative efforts by our faculty to expand the boundaries of teaching, learning, and the imagination.”

Aided by the Mershon Center for International Security Studies and The Greatest Generations Foundation, the spring trip had stops in Guam, Iwo Jima, Saipan, and Tinian.

It’s one of more than 100 study abroad programs supported by the university’s Office of International Affairs.

“Hearing the stories of courage and sacrifice firsthand from veterans who fought, and in many cases bled, on these battlefields makes it come alive," says Mansoor, who wrote the award-winning book Baghdad at Sunrise: A Brigade Commander’s War in Iraq and has been an op-ed contributor to The New York Times. "This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for these young men and women.”

Nappi says he won’t soon forget what it was like to travel with Baize. “My time spent with this aged and humble warrior enlightened me about the human side of the battle, reminding me of the ever-present personal aspect to war,” he says. “‘All gave some, some gave all.’”