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A living history lesson

Schoolchildren often learn about the world today as part of the Newspaper in Education program, but at Curtis Fundamental Elementary School, pupils are getting a lesson in the world as it was 90 years ago.

That's when retired Gen. Arthur Pulsifer was a second-grader.

Pulsifer, 97, responded earlier this year to a letter from the St. Petersburg Times inviting him to become a co-sponsor in the Newspaper in Education program. For $150, he could provide newspapers twice a week for a classroom.

He sent in his check and that might have been the end of it, except that Paul Bosacki and his second-graders wanted to meet their sponsor and thank him in person.

Pulsifer said he is a man who believes in doing things right. So when he received an invitation to visit the classroom, he gathered together mementos of a lifetime and organized a presentation.

Some things impressed the children more than others.

"He brought in a dagger and he brought in a gun holster," Brian Maholm said. "I think he's been in Japan and in Europe _ and he's been in a tornado!"

Jonathan Haffkoss said, "I really liked the hand dagger that he brought in, and I liked the story about the tornado. I didn't know there was a special belt for generals."

Pulsifer, son of a career military man, has lots of stories to tell. He attended second grade in Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

"Just above Leavenworth," he said. "It's a very old post, which is part of the old wall where Indian fighting took place.

"My father was in most of the Indian wars. One of his old posts was in the Indian country up north, Fort Assiniboine."

But back to second grade.

"At that time, the classes were usually no bigger than 20 in a class," he said. "Grades one to eight were all in one school and the high school was all in one building. The teachers were mostly women and they were very good. I do not remember that I ever had a male teacher until I got to high school.

"Today, they have more of the accessory devices to help children, but back then probably the funds for education did not authorize the purchase of anything. It was up to the teacher to bring the artifacts that helped.

"Our recesses were the thing that I probably remember the most. They lasted about half an hour and it was there that we learned to play baseball. Not football or basketball, we only learned to play baseball.

"It was a choose-up affair. Those people who, you might say, were born leaders would choose sides. We had to buy our own uniforms and equipment and they were a motley thing."

After high school, Pulsifer served in the National Guard and then attended West Point where "within four hours we learned to do many things. Late that afternoon, we marched and kept in step _ hundreds of us _ on the way to swear allegiance to the country."

He was at West Point from 1916 to 1918. Later he trained for the 3rd Army in Europe during World War II and served, briefly, under Gen. George Patton. Then he was transferred to the 10th Army under Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner in the Pacific. He became a one-star general in 1951 and retired officially in 1952 after serving 37 years.

It's an indoctrination of discipline that makes a soldier keep going in spite of all the trouble he faces, Pulsifer said, and discipline is the main difference between second-graders of today and those of 90 years ago. Even so, he was impressed with the Curtis Fundamental pupils.

"I thought they were pretty well-mannered," he said. "When they asked questions, they asked intelligent questions."

They also sent cards to him, he said, and he was impressed with the quality of their work.

"I thought their parents might have helped them, but Mr. Bosacki assured me that the work was done in class."

For his part, Bosacki considers Pulsifer's visit a great success, and he's pleased with the Newspaper in Education program.

"(It) has been a real enlightenment for my class this year, and it's really great that they give you a free paper like this 46 times a year _ 46 issues.

"The kids are really excited, and for second grade kids, it's kind of neat because they're learning a lot that they wouldn't know otherwise."

Meanwhile, just mention the general to Bosacki's second-graders and their eyes light up.

Ryan Miller sums it up almost in one breath.

"He brought in a sword and the holder to it, and the belt and the gun-holder and the pictures. He was 97 years old. He was in a wheelchair and he was in a tornado. He was very smart!"

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