Thank you Mr. Atchue

This is not about food or art.

Mr. John Atchue (I hope I remember the spelling correctly) was my Latin teacher at Niagara-Wheatfield High School from 1960 – 1963.  Does any public High School still offer Latin?  I took Latin for three years and the class was pretty much full each year.

On December 7, each year, Mr. Atchue would suspend the Latin lesson and tell us about Pearl Harbor.  He was a seaman on board the USS Helena, a St. Louis class light cruiser, on the morning of the attack, December 7, 1941.  He would calmly describe the morning of the attack and the chaos that ensued.  I remember him telling us that the Helena had been moved the day before and put into the berth normally occupied by the USS Pennsylvania, the ship that was the intended target.  The torpedo that hit the Helena went under the shallower draft of the USS Oglala, which was tied up next to the Helena, and struck the Helena about midships flooding one of its engine rooms and a boiler room.  Amazingly the crew was able to shift the ship’s power to another generator and, within 4 minutes of the attack, the Helena had her guns active and returning fire.  The Oglala was also severely damaged and in danger of sinking and so was moved away from the Helena so as to not pin her against the pier.


The USS Oglala (forground) and USS Helena (rear) at Pearl Harbor (source: Naval History and Heritage Command)

Frankly, I don’t remember much of what Mr. Atchue told us on those days even though I got to hear his tale three times.  Most of what I’ve recounted above I gleaned from the internet although parts of it do ring a bell.  What I do remember, though, was that Mr. Atchue took the time to share with some largely unappreciative, pimply, hormonal high school students his personal memory of an important event in world history – Latin lesson plan be damned.  I probably remember more of his recounting of the Pearl Harbor attack than I do of the Latin lessons.  What I also took away from Mr. Atchue’s sidebar was that to be a teacher means making a personal connection with the content and the students, a lesson I tried to live up to during my teaching career.

Thank you Mr. Atchue.


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