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Edison student creates documentary on Pearl Harbor survivor

By Caitlin Nearhood • Mar 25, 2019 at 12:00 PM

MILAN — Preserving a woman’s historic experience became an Edison student’s mission. 

These past few months, Edison High School junior Sarah Bursley crafted a documentary about a Milan woman who experienced Pearl Harbor as a young girl.

Bursley met Eloise (Zablan) Ritz at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Milan, where they attend church. Ritz, who taught at Edison Schools, moved to Ohio after meeting her husband in Kansas, where she attended college.

“I’ve always knew about her, but I never got to talk to her,” Bursley said. “She’s been going to my church as long as I can remember.”

After reading a Norwalk Reflector news story about Ritz last December, Bursley wrote down questions to interview Ritz for a documentary.

“She was excited that I wanted to interview her,” Bursley said.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Ritz, 6, arrived home when her mother quickly pulled her inside their house near Waikiki Beach. A huge piece of shrapnel almost hit her mother, but cut down a coconut tree in their front yard. Neither Ritz nor her mother was injured, but homes and a nearby school were destroyed, Bursley said.

At the time, Ritz didn’t understand the event’s significance. She and her family listened to news coverage about Pearl Harbor on the radio.

Some people grew suspicious of Japanese people living on the island, but Ritz had Japanese friends at school. 

“About 50 percent of people in her school were Japanese,” Bursley said.

The interview was filmed on Jan. 21.

“It was like a textbook coming to life,” Bursley said. “It was awesome to see how natural she was in the video. She gave every detail possible.”

Using Sony Vegas Pro computer software, she taught herself how to edit the footage. Bursley made sure to use photos from the historic day, too. After working on the documentary every day since the interview, she recently finished, ending up with 33 minutes of footage.

“It’s awesome seeing the video now. This was something I was proud to make,” Bursley said. “I really think it’s something that people will enjoy.”

Ritz’s story encourages people to be kind to one another, Bursley said.

“Her story — it was more beneficial than anything,” Bursley said. “She made it her own and made (Pearl Harbor) more real for me and I hope that (the documentary) makes it more real for people watching.”

Though Bursley doesn’t desire to be a filmmaker, listening to Ritz’s story made her more interested in becoming a mental health counselor to work with people who experienced traumatic events. 

Bursley hopes her documentary will be accepted by the Library of Congress and the Pearl Harbor museum to preserve Ritz’s story.

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