Copyright © 2018 John F. Oyler
January 25, 2018
Bridgeville High School, 1944 and 1945
Our “Second Tuesday” workshop at the Bridgeville History Center this month focused on the Bridgeville High School graduating classes of 1944 and 1945. These were war years, when the impact of World War II dominated every aspect of our lives, especially for those of us on the Home Front. The facilitator set the stage for the workshop by reviewing the war news of the time, culminating with VE Day at about the time the 1945 class celebrated Commencement.
The very first newspaper clipping reported a strike at the Universal Cyclops plant in the summer of 1943 and its adverse effect on fighter plane production. Dale DeBlander remembered that his father worked at Universal at that time. The strike only lasted four days fortunately.
Another one included a photograph of the Gardner twins, Buddy and Jim, being sworn in to the Army as prospective aviation students. It reported that they had identical scores on their entrance exam.
Included among the successful local candidates in the November election in 1943 was J. Edmund Croft as Justice of the Peace. This job supplemented his highly publicized role as “Colonel Eddie Croft” in the Junior Commandos, a role that was recorded in a clipping two months later reporting his coordinating a massive scrap paper drive.
The article lists the Commandos who pulled off this impressive feat, including the name of the facilitator of the workshop. His memory is that this was actually a project of Boy Scout Troop 245, whose Scoutmaster was one Eddie Croft. He had a marvelous knack for getting publicity, one way or the other!
The high school football team won two games, tied two, and lost four. Most embarrassing was a 6 to 0 loss to South Fayette featuring a blocked punt. The winners were treated to a spaghetti dinner at Fatigati’s Restaurant.
A clipping reporting the memorial mass for Seaman John Fabeck was the first of far too many notices of wartime fatalities of BHS alumni. It was followed by those for Sammy Allender, Wayne Carson, James McCracken, Joseph Kasprczk, Raymond Kramer, Robert Kovacevich, Robert Bogdeweicz, and Jacob Yapel.
My brother filled in details on each of these sad stories, based on his research for his book, “Almost Forgotten”. Jacob Yapel graduated from high school in June, entered the service on September 11, went to Europe in January, and was killed on April 5. Nineteen years old. He is just one of so many “Greatest Generation” members who must not be forgotten.
Another sad story is that of the McCool brothers. Nineteen year-old Lieutenant Lawrence McCool, co-pilot of a B-24 Liberator bomber and recipient of a Distinguished Flying Cross, was killed in July, 1944, just six months after his brother, Lieutenant Louis McCool, was killed in a training accident in Florida.
Despite the war Bridgeville High School managed to function, sometimes with great difficulty. Mary Weise remembered having five different biology teachers one year. Apparently the Draft Board had a preference for biologists that year.
Stella Reed was May Queen in 1944, with Norma Collavo her Maid of Honor. The Class of ’44 had seventy-two members, including the aforementioned Jacob Yapel.
There were eighty-six students in the Class of 1945. Geraldine Harmuth was May Queen; Doris Boyer, Maid of Honor. Jim Hofrichter was their Class President; Andy Papanek, Vice President.
We are fortunate to have two copies of “The Bridger” from the ’45 Class – October and December, 1944. The December edition is printed on newsprint so it could be mailed to the (then) 344 BHS alumni in the service.
The October edition included an eloquent editorial exhorting our students to excel. It ended with the charge, “Wake up America, and make this country far better than we have ever known!”
“Glitterbug”, the fashion column reported that the girls had given up the sweaters that were popular in “Bobby Sox Days” in favor of feminine drawstring blouses. Also popular were moccasins with a pocket to hold a dime – “mad money” to call home when your boyfriend deserted you.
The football team won four, tied two, and lost four. Fortunately one of the wins was a 20 to 6 trouncing of arch-enemy South Fayette.
The Senior Play that year was “Sixteen in August”, starring Gerre Harmuth, Bob DeGrosky, and Marcia Munnell. In those days a high school play was a major cultural event in Bridgeville, supported by the entire community.
An item in “Water Under the Bridge” mentioning Ira “Skip” Bryant brought back memories of the facilitator’s best friend in those days. Skip’s father was superintendent at Mayview; Skip commuted via the Bigi Bus.
The Bryants left for Arizona in 1945; our contact lasted only a few years. I learned later that Skip went on to a successful career as a sports writer in Tempe, and then in Phoenix. He was an ardent sports fan when I knew him and apparently lived out his life’s ambition.
The Alumni section of “The Bridger” included an interesting story about Alex Corey (’37). While in the Army in California Alex managed to pick up another $10.50 acting as an extra in the filming of “Anchors Aweigh”. He played a Marine listening to Frank Sinatra sing.
The December edition reported the sad news that Peter Calabro, a turret gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress, had been killed in action over Yugoslavia. Months later it was learned that he was in a German prisoner of war camp, the same one that housed cousins George Shady and George Sam, who were B-24 turret gunners.
John Shipe commented on the large number of Bridgeville boys who ended up in the Air Corps. Was this a coincidence or by choice?
The 1945 BHS basketball team was probably Bridgeville’s best ever. Led by Sammy David and Tom (Dreamer) Lytle, they outclassed their Section 12 opposition and then beat Findlay handily in the first playoff round. Their run ended at Dormont with a heart-breaking loss to Avalon 34 to 32, a game the facilitator remembered distinctly.
Our memories of those years are dominated by the contrast between the comfort of the Home Front and the horror of the War, with the much too frequent arrival of a telegram from the War Department connecting the two.
Our next workshop is scheduled for the second Tuesday of February, which turns out to be the thirteenth. We will meet at 7:00 pm in the History Center and discuss the Classes of 1946 and 1947 and the era of euphoria following the end of the War.