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A student and a teacher from St. Paul have been selected to travel to Hawaii to conduct research on World War II.

Sam Skinner, a sophomore at Como Park High, and Courtney Major, a social studies teacher at Murray Middle School, will make the trip in June to research the life of a "Silent Hero" — a little-known military service member who died fighting in the Pacific during WWII.

The pair is one of 16 student-teacher teams from across the country traveling to Hawaii and researching their own "Silent Hero" through a National History Day-sponsored program. Each pair will conduct extensive historic research, which will be published online for other scholars to use.

"We both already know a great deal about World War II. But now we're trying to find ways in which the events that happened correspond to [a] life and legacy of service," Skinner said.

He and Major decided to research Arthur Engebretson, who attended Murray Middle School when it was a high school.

Engebretson was killed in action in the Pacific during the war. Both said the connection they have to Engebretson — he graduated from the school where Major teaches and where Skinner was once a student — was an important reason why they chose him.

"It's that personal connection that you have. I mean this gentleman's history, you know, has been forgotten. And so we have a responsibility to tell his story in the place that I work and live," Major said.

Skinner has participated in National History Day programs in the past, but he said he has not had an opportunity like this before.

"In the past I've spent a great deal of time trying to compile narratives from pre-existing materials, books that covered broader things, but I've never really dug into the life of an individual in history," he said. "[It's something] social studies programs in Minnesota schools don't really offer students the opportunity to do."

Skinner and Major have known each other since he was a student in her social studies class when he was in middle school.

"She's always been a mentor in social studies. And a friend really, and has always been a part of the research process," Skinner said. "So when she pitched me the idea of joining this program and applying for it, I took that offer."

Major said that she's looking forward to working with Skinner on this project, and that she has been consistently impressed by his abilities and passion for history over the years.

"He's a historian who can hold his own. I've actually learned a whole lot from him and he has really made me a better teacher," Major said.

She and Skinner said they are excited to see WWII historical sites in person, such as the battleship where the Japanese surrendered to the American forces and Pearl Harbor.

"And the magnitude of that moment is what I'm looking forward to. You just can't replicate the power of that place without being there," Major said.

Katrina Pross ( is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.