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Oak Ridge High School JROTC cadets travel to Hawaii to commemorate 80 years since Pearl Harbor

Retired Chief Petty Officer Ryan Nicholls said he hopes his students understand the sacrifices people made for their freedom.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — Tuesday was Pearl Harbor Day, and Oak Ridge High School students were invited to Hawaii to represent Tennessee in remembrance of 80 years since the "Day of Infamy."

Retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Ryan Nicholls took a group of 67 JROTC cadets to Hawaii to march in the Pearl Harbor Memorial Day Parade on Tuesday. 

Those cadets represented Oak Ridge High School and served as the "official ambassadors of the USS Tennessee," one of the battleships at Ford Island that survived the surprise attack by Japanese forces on Dec. 7, 1941. 

"What made America strong and what it is today is because of stuff like this," said Chief Nicholls. "How the country came back together after the attack on Pearl Harbor." 

Chief Nicholls said he hoped the students would learn the sacrifices veterans made for their freedom. 

"The experiences that these kids have taken and understanding how big of an honor it is for them to be here," said Chief Nicholls. "I think it was kind of an, 'Oh wow' moment."

Sam Livesay's grandfather joined the Army after the U.S. entered World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor. He and his father made the trip together. 

"This means a lot to me," Sam said. "Having that kind of legacy in my family's important to me."

"It's been one of my really top experiences as a father," Todd Livesay said. 

Rachel Arnold's great grandfather enlisted "almost immediately" after Pearl Harbor. He served in Hawaii during World War II. 

"We look at some of the pictures that he took while he was here," said Arnold. "We can actually find the buildings that he saw."

The students represented Oak Ridge, a city that was created because of World War II.

In 1942, almost a year after Congress declared war on Japan, the U.S. government acquired the land used for the Manhattan Project. That "Secret City" was located in what is now Oak Ridge. 

"In a matter of months, some 18 months to two years, you had a city built here," said Ray Smith, the Oak Ridge Historian. "The fifth largest city in the state of Tennessee wasn't on any map." 

"It just all comes full circle," Chief Nicholls said.