EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – As part of a special National History Day project, a student and teacher duo from Northwest Early College High School are among 16 teams from across the United States selected to study the impact of World War II.

Northwest sophomore Fatima Garcia and her English teacher James O’Keeffe are the only team from Texas picked to participate in the program, taking place in Hawaii.

The prospect of a research venture in Hawaii initially piqued O’Keeffe’s interest but he was excited to learn that the program involves areas of research that already align well with his work and interests.

“I see this as an opportunity to add to my work through the Pulitzer Center to raise awareness of underreported global issues and highlight an underreported story while teaching myself more about it and at the same time helping students learn more about research and appreciation of the unsung heroes of history and underrepresented populations,” O’Keeffe said

Both will take part in the “Sacrifice for Freedom: World War II” through the Pacific Student and Teacher Institute where they will research the context of World War II in the Pacific and specifically, the life of a “Silent Hero” who died during World War II and is buried in or memorialized at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Each team will select a “Silent Hero” from their region and research his or her story for six months before sharing what they learned in a series of graveside eulogies at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Oahu.

“We are very proud of both Fatima and Mr. O’keeffe for earning spots to take part in this competitive program where they can gain a wealth of experience working together on their project and have the opportunity to network with faculty and students from all over the nation.”

NWECHS Principal Frank Clark

This year, 68 teams applied for the competitive summer institute which is funded by the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites, which includes the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, Pacific Historic Parks, Battleship Missouri Memorial, and the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum at Pearl Harbor, travel and program expenses are provided for all participants.

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Garcia is eager to embark on this endeavor to not only learn more about World War II in the Pacific but to shed light on a hero that many may not know or hear about.

“I was really interested in being part of this project with Mr. O’Keeffe so that I could learn more about a silent hero myself but also play a role in making sure their story gets told,” Garcia said. “I am excited to get started on the research and present in Hawaii this summer.”

NHD is a non-profit organization based in College Park that seeks to improve the teaching and learning of history.

At the culmination of the “Sacrifice for Freedom” program, the students will develop a “Silent Hero” profile to be published online during the 2023–2024 academic year at NHDSilentHeroes.org.

“This program makes history tangible as students trace the steps of soldiers and visit locations that were instrumental in the Pacific during World War II,” Executive Director Cathy Gorn states.

“Each year, when students read their eulogies for their Silent Heroes in Hawaii, I can see the deep meaningful connections that transcend time and place. The past becomes the present in that moment.”

The National History Day Contest was established in 1974 and currently engages more than half a million students in conducting original research on historical topics of interest.