Harrison Johnson chats with a veteran. Over the past two years, the 11-year-old has raised more than $92,000 for Pacific Historic Parks.

Harrison Johnson chats with a veteran. Over the past two years, the 11-year-old has raised more than $92,000 for Pacific Historic Parks. (Courtesy of Clinton Johnson)

Harrison Johnson first learned about the attack on Pearl Harbor in third grade, when he was assigned a research project on the subject.

“I was so drawn into it, and I noticed that other children in my neighborhood didn’t know much about it,” said Harrison, 11, who lives in North Raleigh, N.C. “After I finished the project, all I wanted to talk about was Pearl Harbor.”

For the past two years, Harrison has made it his mission to raise $100,000 to promote Pearl Harbor awareness. He has nearly reached his goal.

“It feels very, very good,” said Harrison.

He’s gone door-to-door around Raleigh and hosted community events, and so far has collected more than $92,000 for Pacific Historic Parks, a nonprofit in Waipio, Hawaii, that supports historical sites including the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.

Harrison visited the memorial on the island of Oahu with his mother in April 2022, while he was working on his Pearl Harbor research project.

“It was like everything I learned about fit together,” Harrison said. “I was at the place where it all happened; it was like a story book.”

He spoke with staff on-site and tried to take in as much information as he could.

“He went from person to person,” said Cheznee Johnson, Harrison’s mother.

Harrison Johnson reads a sign at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.

Harrison Johnson reads a sign at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. (Courtesy of Clinton Johnson)

After the trip, Harrison made an announcement to his parents: “I’m going to raise $100,000.” They tried to persuade him to set a more modest goal.

“We know what it takes to raise that kind of money,” said Cheznee Johnson. “We were trying to level set.”

Harrison refused to adjust his ambitions.

Harrison confidently called Aileen Utterdyke, the CEO and president of Pacific Historic Parks.

“You don’t see children these days who are that engaged and passionate about history,” she said. “This young man was totally different.”

Harrison explained that he wanted to start a fundraising effort called “Harrison’s Heroes.” All proceeds would go toward creating educational materials for students to learn about the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor — an assault that led to the United States entering World War II. More than 2,400 Americans died, including civilians.

“He saw a need of building this out,” said Utterdyke, noting that many schools don’t teach about the Japanese attack.

Harrison got to work in May 2022, soliciting funds in his school community, at church and around his neighborhood. He also approached the general manager of The Hasentree Club — a country club in Wake Forest, N.C., where his parents are members — to see if they’d be willing to help raise funds.

“Most 9- or 10-year-olds are usually very timid around adults. I was absolutely floored and blown away by Harrison,” said Scott Campbell, who was the general manager of the club for three years. Harrison told him his goal of raising $100,000.

“I appreciated his willingness to reach for the stars,” said Campbell, who initially offered to donate some proceeds from popsicle sales at the club to Harrison’s Heroes during the summer of 2022.

Harrison Johnson thanks staff at his local Panera Bread after a fundraising event.

Harrison Johnson thanks staff at his local Panera Bread after a fundraising event. (Courtesy of Clinton Johnson)

Harrison set his sights higher.

He was interested in the golf tournament the club hosts each year, in which half the proceeds go to a local charity that members select, while the rest goes to an employee care fund for club staff. Members picked Harrison’s Heroes for the 2022 tournament, raising about $4,000 in donations, and Harrison delivered a heartfelt thank you speech to members.

“He had people in tears,” said Campbell. “It was one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen, and that’s not just from a child of his age, but anybody that I’ve ever seen speak.”

Harrison also organized three events at a local Panera Bread in which the restaurant donated a portion of its sales.

Harrison spends most weekends going door-to-door in different neighborhoods, which is how he has raised a significant portion of his funds. He has also received donations from companies and religious organizations.

“It’s really great to see people support him,” said Cheznee Johnson, adding that her son does the majority of his fundraising on his own, and he also volunteers with the United Services Organizations. “It’s a one-man show.”

“People are very nice and really want to encourage me and help me with my mission,” said Harrison, adding that he has also encountered a few people who have accused him of glorifying war.

“I say to those people ‘I think we should celebrate those who served our country,’” said Harrison, whose father, Clinton Johnson, retired from the U.S. Air Force in 2021, after serving for 20 years.

Harrison Johnson at a Memorial Day fundraiser in Raleigh, N.C.

Harrison Johnson at a Memorial Day fundraiser in Raleigh, N.C. (Courtesy of Clinton Johnson)

Throughout Harrison’s fundraising efforts, he has continued to learn more about the attack on Pearl Harbor — and history more broadly.

“I watch a lot of documentaries. I also read old books and old newspapers,” he said.

Harrison has connected with some of the few remaining survivors of the attack — including Lou Contor, a retired lieutenant commander who died on April 1 at age 102. He also had a phone call with Randy Stratton, the son of Pearl Harbor survivor Donald Stratton, who died four years ago at age 97. Randy Stratton died last summer.

“It made him so proud that there was a young person that was interested in Pearl Harbor,” said Nikki Stratton, 39, Randy Stratton’s daughter. “I think the biggest thing that my father took away was that there was hope for the younger generation to remember.”

Stratton is planning to bring Harrison to see the new USS Arizona — which will be christened with the same name as the battleship that was sunk by Japanese bombers during the attack on Pearl Harbor — once it is completed. The new naval submarine will be added to the Navy’s fleet.

Through his research, Harrison has also learned about lesser-known people such as Doris Miller, a Black naval cook who helped save sailors during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“I want to highlight the untold stories of minorities in the Pearl Harbor attack,” said Harrison. “Especially Japanese, African American and the stories of women.”

Harrison’s $100,000 will go toward creating a virtual reality experience to teach children about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Harrison’s own research and ideas will be used in the final product, which they hope to get into schools across the country, Utterdyke said.

Harrison wants to reach $100,000 by Dec. 7, 2024 — the 83rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“He is very close,” said Utterdyke.

Harrison said once he achieves that, he does not plan to slow down.

“I’m close to accomplishing my goal, but really, I’m just starting,” he said.

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