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Milan woman’s experience won't be forgotten

By Caitlin Nearhood • Apr 15, 2019 at 7:00 PM

MILAN — Thanks to an ambitious Edison High School student, a Milan woman’s experience will not be forgotten. 

On Friday, junior Sarah Bursley premiered the documentary she made about Eloise (Zablan) Ritz, who experienced Pearl Harbor as a child. Ritz moved to Ohio after meeting her husband in Kansas, where she attended college and taught at Edison Schools for more than three decades.

The two met at their church, St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Milan.

“I’ve always knew about her, but I never got to talk to her,” Bursley said.

A recent Norwalk Reflector news story about Ritz caught Bursley’s attention, prompting her to preserve Ritz’s experience.

Since the interview with Ritz in January, Bursley taught herself how to edit the footage using computer software. She used photos from the historic day and consulted with her family and others for constructive criticism. She thanked them for their help and Ritz for her willingness to be interviewed. 

“I can’t thank her enough,” Bursley said. 

On Dec. 7, 1941, Ritz, 6, arrived home from mass 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 neighbor’s yard. Neither Ritz nor her mother was injured, but homes and a nearby school were destroyed.

The documentary, about 33 minutes in length, is available on Bursley’s YouTube channel.

Bursley’s parents and grandparents, along with her classmates, Ritz and Ritz’s family, viewed the documentary Friday morning for the first time. Ritz shared her memories of the historic event and her life afterward as Bursley asked questions.

“When something like 9/11 happens, it brings back memories (of Pearl Harbor),”  Ritz said in the interview. “Those aren’t memories you forget.”

After Pearl Harbor, some people grew suspicious of Japanese people living on the island, but Ritz had Japanese friends at school.

“Some of my best friends were Japanese, Chinese, Korean,” she said. “Until that time, we never thought about what nationality you were.”

Ritz explained what she wants future generations to learn from her story.

“Look for the good in everyone, always,” she said. “I know sometimes it’s very hard, and believe me I’ve experienced it. But I think when you look for the good and you try to instill this acceptance to others and you see it working, that’s a success.”

Bursley hopes her documentary will be accepted by the Library of Congress. The National Park Service and the Liberty Aviation museum in Port Clinton have expressed interest in using the documentary for educational purposes.

Norwalk Reflector Videos