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Power of written word enshrined
Portal High dedicates Freedom Shrine of historic documents
121410 FREEDOM SHRINE 01 web
Portal Mayor Larry Motes takes a closer look at the Freedom Shrine at Portal High School after Tuesday's unveiling ceremony. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

American history came alive Tuesday inside the new Portal Middle/High School during a special ceremony to dedicate a "Freedom Shrine."

The Statesboro Exchange Club donated the Freedom Shrine, which consists of 26 exact replicas of some of the most important documents in American History, from the Declaration of Independence to the formal surrender of the Imperial Japanese Army. It is a permanent installation of documents that emphasize freedom and liberty.

Cassie Justen, president of the Exchange Club, dedicated the Shrine, saying "these documents can and should become an important part of the teaching of subjects such as American History, civics, and government at the middle and high school."

The Exchange Club is an all-volunteer national service organization for men and women who want to serve their community. The organization primary focuses are Americanism and ending child abuse.

Keynote speaker Brigadier General (Ret.) Dr. Charles Webb came to the podium to share with those assembled the importance and power of words as evidenced by famous phrases from the past.

His most powerful example was the response of the Japanese Imperial High Command to an Allied demand for surrender in the summer of 1945. The written response to the command, Webb said, had two very different interpretations: one meant the Japanese were saying "wait while we consider." While the other meant, essentially, "a response to your demand is not warranted."

Because of the confusion and, as it turned out, incorrect interpretation, the United States went ahead and dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki instead of giving the Japanese their requested time to consider how to meet the Allied demands for surrender. The world was, therefore, forever changed in many ways.

While the Declaration was signed on July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia, the Japanese surrender was signed by the Emperor of Japan on Sept. 2, 1945 onboard the American battleship the USS Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay.

Portal teacher Jennifer Yates, who has taught many subjects, including history, government and politics, said the shrine will make history much more real to her students.

"Imagine," she said, "the difference between reading about something in a textbook and seeing the actual document with all the signatures right there in front of you. It just brings them to life."

The Exchange Club's inspiration to start the Freedom Shrine project for their clubs nationwide, came from the Freedom Train that toured the nation in 1947. The train carried an exhibit of historical documents to areas where residents would have had no other chance of ever seeing them.

Tuesday's ceremony was called to a close by Portal Principal Jimmy Parrish, who invited all those in attendance to go take pictures at the actual shrine, which is located on the wall just outside the front office in the main hallway.


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