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The fiery December 7, 1941 surprise attack on Pearl Harbor got “real” for the first cadre of Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) midshipmen at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. As part of their U.S. Naval History course, the 25 midshipmen donned virtual reality (VR) headsets and were immersed in a 360-degree digital experience of the events of the attack through two newly released VRs from Pacific Historic Parks.

midshipmen wearing vr headsets
UH Mānoa NROTC midshipmen experience Pacific Historic Parks new VRs.

The narrated VRs, titled “Air Raid Pearl Harbor” and “Skies Over Pearl,” placed them on the deck of the USS Utah, one of the battleships destroyed on that Sunday morning, and also put them in the cockpit of a Japanese fighter plane as it departed the carrier Akagi 230 miles north of Oʻahu and headed toward the military airfields and Pearl Harbor.

“It was important for them to see this virtual reality simulation because as Hawaiʻi’s first Naval ROTC Command, [the students] need to see what is in their region’s background and their history,” said Lt. Sawyer Smith, NROTC aviation officer and instructor of the course. “It teaches them how to understand the severity of the Pearl Harbor attack, and teaches them a history lesson through different aspects of what made that battle so significant.”

The experience told the story of the 1941 attack in a new way, and helped the group of future military leaders, who were not born when 9/11 happened, to better understand and prepare in the event of an attack similar to Dec. 7 or 9/11.

Dylan Yamaguchi, a 4th class NROTC midshipman, who plans to join the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating said it was an innovative experience. “I thought it was pretty interesting because it was a new way of learning our history. In the history books, we could read it and imagine it in our minds, but the VR headsets actually showed us what it really was like,” he said.

“Air Raid Pearl Harbor” and “Skies Over Pearl” run about 6 minutes each and are currently shown at the Pearl Harbor Virtual Reality Center at the USS Arizona Memorial. Pacific Historic Parks aims to expand outreach to students from high school and college to promote their mission of remembering, honoring and understanding World War II in the Pacific.

More on UH Mānoa’s 1st NROTC midshipmen

teacher addressing students
Lt. Sawyer Smith answers questions from the class.
  • There are 25 midshipmen in the inaugural 2021–22 cohort (15 Hawaiʻi residents and 10 out-of-state residents), with a mix of male (18) and female (7) students.
  • The UH Mānoa NROTC program educates, trains and develops young men and women for leadership positions in the Navy and Marine Corps.
  • The program is actively recruiting students both locally and across the mainland for the 2022–23 academic year.
  • Established in 2020, UH Mānoa is the first university to host a new NROTC program in the country since 2016.

Learn more on the UH Manoa NROTC website and Facebook page.

This is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Enhancing Student Success (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

—By Arlene Abiang

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