History professor tackles Pearl Harbor mystery on PBS

Eduardo Pagan, an ASU history professor, started his job before he was even offered it.

One day, he received an email from PBS asking for his expertise.

“I thought it was spam or some sort of scam,” Pagan said.

So he did some digging, and after agreeing to meet with the sender, learned it was the real thing.

Pagan was offered a position as a co-host on PBS’ “History Detectives,” where he will be doing more investigating — this time, on historical puzzles.

For Tuesday’s season premiere, Pagan headed to private islands in Hawaii, to unravel a mystery left in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Through interviews and evidence, Pagan discovered there was a point where a Japanese soldier briefly occupied United States territory.

A pilot crashed onto a private island, manned a turret, and took several U.S. citizens hostage before a man took him down on the island.

It was a fascinating story, Pagan said, but was lost in the shuffle of one of the greatest tragedies in American history.

“This would’ve been a huge story,” Pagan said. “It was just totally swallowed up by Pearl Harbor.”

But that doesn’t mean it didn’t still have historical significance.

Two people of Japanese descent on the island helped the crashed pilot, for reasons that are still unknown, Pagan said. This ended up being used as an argument for the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II.

Dave Davis, the Vice President of TV production for “History Detectives,” said Pagan was an excellent choice for the program.

The show’s producer’s were looking for a fifth co-host who lived “in the West and had experience with history in the West,” Davis said.

Pagan, ASU’s Bob Stump Endowed Professor of History, a title named after the U.S. congressman, fit the bill, and first started his work on the show in 2008.

Pagan was essentially screen-tested by asking him to talk about some historical artifacts, “and he was a natural, which is unusual for an academic,” Stump said.

Pagan said he enjoys the unique opportunities being a “History Detectives” host affords him.

There’s a mystery to be solved, and it’s always against the backdrop of a unique setting.

“One of the great things about this is I get to visit all these historical sites,” Pagan said. “Just to be there on location is just amazing.”

The season premiere of “History Detectives” is scheduled to air at 8 p.m. Tuesday on Eight, Arizona PBS.

Reach the reporter at clecher@asu.edu

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