Ronnie Currens Wins Best of Show
at the State Level


MARCH 17, 2007

Special: Ronnie Currens Wins Best of Show at the State Level

Eleven-year old Ronnie Currens, a sixth-grader at Peachtree Charter Middle School in Atlanta, Georgia, has won the top award at the 2007 Georgia Social Studies Fair held at Clayton State University in Morrow, GA.

The title of Ronnie's project was, "How Did Japan Treat American POWs in World War II?"

The Social Studies Fair is a production of the Georgia Council for the Social Studies. Founded in 1963, the GCSS is dedicated to promoting adequate recognition for the social sciences and social studies among school curricula and programs. Their annual Social Studies Fair has become part of the curriculum of almost all Georgia schools, from grades 5 through 12. Most Georgia social studies teachers require their students to chose an appropriate subject, write a research paper, construct a model or other visual aid, and build a backboard with maps, graphs, or other pertinent material. Each entry is judged first at the individual school level, and the winners progress to the County, Region, and State SSF. Visit is the Web page for the GCSS State SSF.

The projects are divided into four classes, according to grade level. Ronnie is in Class 1, for the youngest students (fifth and sixth grade). Class 2 is 7th and 8th, Class 3 is 9th and 10th, and Class 4 is 11th and 12th. Yet Ronnie – at age 11 – managed to win the top award of the whole fair! Ronnie's dad wrote a blog about the State SSF and his thoughts are outlined here:

Ronnie's project was centered on the experiences of his grandfather and namesake, Ronald B. Currens Sr. 1st Lieutenant Currens was captured on Corregidor, Philippines, at the outbreak of the war and spent 42 months in Japanese captivity, suffering unimaginable deprivation and torture. Ronnie used his grandfather's diaries as the basis of his research for this project and the family connection was very important to his end result.

Central to Ronnie's research was Roger Mansell's Web page, Center for Research: Allied Prisoners of War under the Japanese. Roger sent Ronnie a CD filled with photos, many of which Ronnie used in his project. After winning his school and county Social Studies Fair, Roger placed a story about Ronnie on his Home page. Ronnie's original story and research paper are available.

Caroline Burkhart, a fellow POW researcher, found Ronnie's story and realized that her father was on the same Hell Ship and in the same POW camps as Ronnie's grandfather. She wrote Ronnie's school in order to contact Ronnie and his school administrators forwarded her letter to him. After getting in touch, Caroline sent Ronnie photos of his grandfather and other materials he did not previously have.

Before the State SSF, Ronnie's dad had the idea of incorporating the above experiences into Ronnie's project – the GCSS permits projects to be updated up until the State SSF. With this in mind Ronnie wrote a Follow-Up Paper entitled, "How Did the Social Studies Fair Affect Ronnie Currens?" Here is what he wrote:

Follow Up: How Did the Social Studies Fair
Affect Ronnie Currens?

1. Knowledge. The first thing that affected me was learning about World War II in the Pacific. Many people think mostly about Europe when they think of WWII. For instance, the Nazis, D-Day, and the Holocaust. If they think about the war in the Pacific at all, it is only Pearl Harbor or the atom bomb they know about.

I learned a lot about the war with Japan, especially in the Philippines. I also learned a lot about the Japanese military culture and how the Japanese treated American POWs.

2. Understanding. Even more important, I learned a lot about my grandfather. I am named after him but he died before I was born. It was really important to me to be able to read his diaries and touch the things he had with him while he was a Japanese POW. I feel like I know him much better now than I ever could have without doing my SSF paper.

3. Bonding. I also had a really good experience working with my dad. Many of the things I learned about my grandfather came from an interview I had with my father. He remembered a lot his dad had told him about his POW experience that was never written down in his diaries. My dad also helped me by typing the paper while I dictated it.

4. Pride. When I was lucky enough to win the SSF at the school and county levels, I received recognition at Peachtree Charter Middle School and that made me feel good. There was a pep rally for the whole school a few days after the Regional SSF and the principal mentioned my name for everybody to hear and I felt very proud.

5. Recognition. My dad sent an email to Roger Mansell about my success. Mr. Mansell is director of the Center for Research: Allied POWs under the Japanese. I used his Web site as a source for some of the information in my paper, and he placed a story about my project on his home page! A printout of the home page is in Appendix A. A printout of the story is in Appendix B.

6. Connection. Because of the story on Mr. Mansell's Web page, a completely unexpected contact was made. Mrs. Caroline Burkhart was doing research using the site and read my paper. She discovered that her father had been on the same Hell Ship and in the same prison camps as my grandfather. She wanted to contact me to tell me about her father, but she did not know my address. But Peachtree Charter Middle School was mentioned in the article, so she called information to get the number of the school and then called to get their address. She sent me a letter in care of PCMS and that letter is Appendix C.

After calling her I found out that her dad was in the room right next to my grandfather's at Zentsuji and that they may have played bridge together. She even had some photos of my grandfather and some other materials that she was kind enough to send. These items are in Appendix D.

I liked doing this project and I learned a lot about my grandfather. I connected with Mrs. Burkhart from Baltimore whose father had been in the same POW camps as my grandfather. This Social Studies Fair Project has provided me with an opportunity to be a role model.

Ronnie's award-winning project is a credit to his hard work and to the family connection of his research. The connections he made putting this project together have forged new relationships that will last a lifetime. He has connected with his grandfather in a way that would have been impossible without his research for this project.

Ronnie's grandfather's best friend at Zentsuji and Rokuroshi was Walter "Windy" Winslow, Commander, USN. One of Ms. Burkhart's photos showed Windy asleep on his bunk in his room at Rokuroshi and it really brought home the privation the prisoners suffered. Another item she sent was an article from the June 1947 issue of Reader's Digest, written by Windy! Entitled "Silver Bracelet," it is the story of a Zentsuji POW who had to fight off Jap guards trying to steal the bracelet his wife had given him … while his leg was being amputated!

The award Ronnie won for best SSF in the State of Georgia in 2007 was just the icing on the cake. The judges were very impressed by the connections that were made as a result of Ronnie's project. Here is a poem that Windy wrote in Ronnie's grandfather's diary – it is the only entry in any of his diaries that is not in his own handwriting. Misspellings are preserved as in the original:

"To Ron"
Comerade these long weary wasted years are gone
Forever into the mellow shadows of the past
That sombre life of anguish never spoken and pent up tears unshed
We relegate to yesterday at last.

Let it lie dead, no sorrow crown its bier
For life that once seemed done
Has but begun and we rise borne anew
To greet the wonderous thrilling sun.

So –
Let not vulgar memories evoke
The ghosts of sad, sad yesterdays
But when reflection steams from out your pipes contented bowl,

Remember this one foolish bearded friend
With whom you shared so many precious
Smokes, and bridged the vapid way of fate
With faded cards, and super quans, or
Just plain swapping dubious yarns

For though our whole damn world went wrong
And we was robbed of it all, but still could smile
We found the way of friendship
Somehow made it all worth while

W.G. Winslow