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May 25, 2001

Let me introduce you to the Perry High School graduating class of 1941. You will find them uniquely interesting, personable, good-humored and easy to talk to. Sixty years ago this month, with heads proudly held high, they marched down the aisle of the old PHS auditorium to receive their graduation diplomas from Dr. C.H. Cooke, president of the board of education, and Mr. George Spraberry, school superintendent. I am proud to be a member of the class of 1941, and I anxiously await the arrival of the out-of-towners for what probably will be our last reunion.

This weekend, the remnants of that illustrious class will be back in Perry to celebrate another anniversary. We may not step as lively as we did on that balmy spring night six decades ago when Mr. Bill Sharp’s PHS band, looking very good in their maroon uniforms, played the familiar strains of “March Militaire,” but to me they are still the same winsome girls and clean-cut adolescent boys, just like the ones that this old school system has cranked out for years. I love every one of them.

Our graduation speaker on that pleasant Saturday evening was the Hon. H. Roe Bartle, a juvenile judge and former mayor of Kansas City, Missouri. He was a nationally honored leader of the Boy Scouts of America. He was greatly admired and in demand for such occasions and we were only able to bring him to Perry because we were willing to have commencement on a Saturday night (the only time he could come here) instead of the usual weekday night. I know he said a lot of profound things but I cannot remember any of them. My classmates and I were preoccupied with other thoughts, like, “What do we do now?”

Those young men and women were the teen-agers of what NBC’s Tom Brokaw calls “the greatest generation.” We grew up during the Great Depression and graduated from high school just in time for the sneak Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the tragedy that catapulted the U.S. into World War II. At our age, no thought was given to becoming heroes. Serving in the military was simply a job that had to be done. My friends helped save the world for Democracy because we were brought up with the understanding that right outweighs might, and that right always prevails. The possibility of losing that epic struggle with the Nazis, the Fascists and the Japanese empire never entered our minds. Several members of the PHS class of ’41 sacrificed their lives on the battlefields of the world in places they had not studied in Miss Pearlie Acheson’s social science class.

So far, our class has not produced any celebrities, no winners of Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, Pulitzer or Nobel prizes, but that’s OK. We have a lot of very proud grandparents, and a great deal of time will be spent at the reunion happily examining each other’s family photos. Sadly, we will pause to honor those who left our ranks since that 1941 graduation day. Our class president, David Thomas, was one of the WWII casualties. So were Keith Haga, Bob Mieir and some others. In all, 34 of the 89 members of the class of ’41 have passed away. Others are burdened by the various infirmities of this mature stage of life, and we will miss each one of them.

Sixty years ago, when we were young and feisty, we enjoyed a close relationship. We still revel in the various types of achievements attained by each other. If there were some kind of gauge to measure such things, you’d find that feeling is still there. Those boys and girls of 60 years ago retain their bonds and their memories of another age, and we will greet one another warmly, knowing full well that this may be our last hurrah as a group. As one who never left the old hometown, except for three years of military service, let me say, “Welcome back to Perry, classmates!” This old world could use a lot more just like you.