School memorials for their fallen veterans good idea

At some point in the next school year (2018-19), Columbus will mark a special occasion — the 150th anniversary of the introduction of a high school education to the young people of the community. The exact details of the observance are still in the planning stages, and there are likely to be a number of sesquicentennial events staged by different groups throughout the school year.

Right now, Hedy George and JoAnn Greenlee of the Columbus/Columbus North High School Alumni Association are focusing on a project that they hope will never require any additions in the years to come — a tribute to former students and graduates of their high school who were killed in action or died while in the service of their country.

In some respects the pair have a head start on their objective — the roster of the fallen from Bartholomew County inscribed on the columns of the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans. That’s just a start however. Determining which of the 181 service members listed on the columns attended or graduated from Columbus or Columbus North high schools is a lengthy and sometimes frustrating process.

“We didn’t want to simply limit it to graduates because graduating from high school wasn’t always an accepted thing,” Hedy said. “Especially during World War I and II, it wasn’t uncommon for students to enlist in service while still in school.”

One source of information has been newspaper stories written around the time an individual’s death was reported. At first JoAnn used search tools available through the newspapers.com website (which contains every issue of The Republic and its ancestors from 1872 to the present) in seeking background information on service members, but that turned out to be a cumbersome process in terms of common names. She will be able to narrow the search in the coming weeks because of newspaper clippings provided by The Republic that dealt with the first death reports of local service members. But even in some of those cases, school affiliations weren’t always mentioned.

That was the case in Bartholomew County’s first reported war death of the 20th century — Edward Hunter, a 23-year-old soldier from rural Columbus who died of pneumonia in 1900 while serving with U.S. forces in the little-known War in the Philippines.

The most recent North graduate to be listed among Bartholomew County’s war dead is Marine Cpl. John W. Bishop, who was killed in 2003 while on a tour in Afghanistan. Sadly, the process of recognizing those from Bartholomew County who have made the ultimate sacrifice remains a work in progress.

Two others from Bartholomew County have been killed in the war on terror. The first reported local fatality was Marine Sgt. Jeremy McQueary, a 2002 graduate of Columbus East High School, who was killed Feb. 18, 2010, during a reconnaissance mission in Afghanistan. Army Sgt. Jonathon Hunter, a 2011 East graduate, was killed in an attack by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan on Aug. 2.

Since East’s history dates to its opening in 1972, McQueary and Hunter are listed as its only graduates to have died in service to their country. The school experienced no losses during the Vietnam War.

According to East High School Alumni Association member Chuck Wells, it is the group’s present intent to honor the sacrifice of their fallen through the school’s Wall of Honor. McQueary was inducted into the organization in January, and it is expected that Hunter’s name will be added in the near future.

The method of recognition for former students at Columbus and Columbus North high schools who were killed or died during this nation’s wars is considerably more complex owing to the lengthy search process required and the number of former students who would qualify for inclusion.

Since planning is still in the early stages, an exact area for display of such an exhibit has not been determined, but Hedy has suggested that the school’s Commons area would be a logical choice.

The type of display could also be impacted by cost considerations. In addition to the inscriptions on the columns of the Memorial for Veterans, a roster of the fallen — including short biographies for each — was maintained on the Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum website. Unfortunately, the digital information for that site was erased in recent years when the site crashed. Much of the material has been retained in hard copy form, and efforts are underway to make it more readily available to the public.

In the meantime Hedy and JoAnn are continuing their groundwork in developing a memorial for those from their school who made the ultimate sacrifice in time of war. The concept for such a recognition is not original. It came from a visit they made to Richmond, which is host to what is believed to be one of the first high school alumni associations in the country.

“Right away we noticed that they had created a memorial for their former students who had been killed or died in wartime,” Hedy said. “We recognized this as a program that we could put in place here.”

It’s still a year or more in the future, but its importance can’t be overstated, especially for the students of today and tomorrow who should be reminded of the sacrifices of those who preceded them.

Harry McCawley is the former associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached at harry@therepublic.com.