The 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion is only three months away, so I thought this would be a good time for me to hop into my time machine and go back to 1944 to see what was happening in local schools at that time. However, I couldn’t get the darn thing started, so I had to resort to the next best thing: I visited the history room at Seymour Library, where I found 1944 yearbooks from East, Central, West and Holy Family high schools.
D-Day is a military term for the beginning of an event or operation. In June of 1944, it referred to Operation Overlord, where more than 150,000 American, British and Canadian soldiers crossed the English Channel and landed on the coast of Normandy, France. More than 4,000 Allied fighters were killed, and thousands more were either injured or reported missing in action. My father and several of his brothers fought in World War II, so I have a personal connection to the impact of the war.
I found some interesting information in each of the yearbooks I viewed, and I will address them in alphabetical order.
From Mercury, the Central High yearbook:
“Confronting us, the graduating class of 1944, is a world beset with havoc and filled with misery. The great conflagration of war which has been raging unabated has seared us all. We look forward to the day when we may live, once again, in a world at peace.” This is from an editorial in the front of the yearbook by the class vice president, Earl Schemerhorn. Keep in mind that Earl wrote this before the United States had even joined the war effort in Europe.
From The Arrow, the East High School yearbook:
“A democratic people in time of war voluntarily surrender many rights and privileges in order that the war may be ended quickly and successfully. ... We must see that our inheritance is restored to us as soon as possible after the war.” This is from an unsigned editorial in the front of the yearbook. In the senior picture section, four students were listed as already being in the service.
From The Achillean, the Holy Family yearbook:
“Our country has been plunged into a devastating war. Most of us perhaps shall be called upon to fight for our country. ... Perhaps some shall even be forced to sacrifice their lives that those who survive may live in peace.” This is from a forward to the book.
According to the June 28, 1944, edition of The Citizen-Advertiser, Class President Robert Morgan’s commencement speech was titled “Post War Peace.” This yearbook also featured a four-page tribute to class of 1943 graduates who were serving in the military. Next to one photo was a handwritten note indicating that one Theodore Miskell had been killed in action in France on June 22, 1944.
From Tech, the West High School yearbook:
“The class of 1944 is the first class to have completed secondary work in West High School.” This is from an introduction by Principal Harold D. Kelly. The school had opened in 1941. Many of the seniors indicated they would be joining the military after graduation.
In his commencement speech, class valedictorian Donald Loeper said, “Many of our graduating class will be leaving for the armed forces in a few weeks. ... Those who will not be carrying a gun are challenged on the home front to keep our American way of life.”
I look forward to a time when our graduating seniors do not have to worry about having to risk their lives in a war zone.
“Working for peace in the future is to work for peace in the present moment.” — Thich Nhat Hanh