With teen's help, Pearl Harbor event goes on

The national Pearl Harbor Survivors Association disbanded last year, and several individual chapters across the country stopped meeting.

To many survivors, now in their late 80s or early 90s, the logistics of organizing annual Dec. 7 observances became too much of a burden.

In the Kansas City area, however, several survivors of the attack that brought the U.S. into World War II will gather today for their annual observance in Johnson County.

For that, Kansas City can thank Quinn Appletoft, 17.

As a boy, Quinn began seeking out Pearl Harbor survivors with the help of his father, Ron Appletoft, a former Mission City Council member. Father and son began attending the annual observances.

Not long ago, when the aging local survivors contemplated no longer meeting on the anniversary, Quinn asked them to reconsider. He and his father helped organize today’s event.

As he has for several years, Quinn will serve as master of ceremonies.

“It’s something I feel that I owe to them,” said Quinn, now a junior at Shawnee Mission East High School. “I feel it’s my duty to keep their stories alive because of how well they treated me when I was younger.”

Many of Quinn’s peer group share similar sentiments. Student groups from Indian Hills and Indian Woods middle schools are expected to attend today’s program, as well as a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps contingent from Shawnee Mission North High School.

When Quinn was an Indian Hills eighth-grader, he began talking to friends about the survivors. Quinn’s enthusiasm prompted succeeding Indian Hills students to recognize area World War II veterans as a living history resource, said Christie Ramsey, an Indian Hills teacher.

Students have met and interviewed World War II veterans and also have volunteered to write letters to veterans to read while taking part in “Honor Flights” to visit the National World War II Memorial in Washington.

“We’re still doing veterans projects because of what Quinn did in eighth grade in front of his peers,” Ramsey said. “Quinn has left quite a legacy, and not many kids do that.”

Local Pearl Harbor veterans recognize this.

“We would not be having our Dec. 7 meeting if Quinn and his family were not taking care of it,” said Edmund Russell, 95, of Lenexa.

“Sometimes my own children seem to have a very modest interest in this sort of thing, so Quinn’s interest is very gratifying,” added Dorwin Lamkin, 90, of Mission.

Jack Carson, 89, of Overland Park, said about 200 people attend the ceremony every Dec. 7 “and we always get some bright questions from these students.”

Quinn, meanwhile, is contemplating a possible career as a history teacher. The area survivors, taking their cue from Quinn, plan to keep gathering and speaking to schools and other groups as long as they can.