The school’s alumni who died in wars are remembered in words and deed Friday, as classmates place a monument amid the beauty of a forest purchased just for them during World War II.
Jenny Rose stood in front of a new granite monument at the edge of the Cleveland High School Memorial Forest on Friday morning and recalled her childhood friend, Iggy.
“He was just a little guy,’’ Rose said, “but he was always the one who was laughing.”
She and Iggy grew up in the shadow of the old Rainier Brewery, two among a multiethnic pack of kids who wore the red-and-white colors of Cleveland’s Eagles, and sang the school song with gusto, she said.
When Iggy was drafted into the U.S. Army in the late 1960s to fight in the Vietnam War, Rose and her friends corresponded with him regularly.
“And then one day, the letters stopped,’’ she said, choking back tears.
Seeing his name — Ignacio E. Duro — etched in granite at the memorial forest for the first time on Friday was a healing moment, she said, one that connected her to four generations of Eagles who gathered to rededicate the forest in a ceremony that has honored Cleveland’s fallen alumni for more than 72 years.
The forest dates back to World War II, when schools around the country feverishly raised money for the war effort. Well-funded schools raised enough for a tank, a jeep, even a plane for the U.S. military. Cleveland’s working-class students raised $300 between 1943 and 1944, said John Barton, the Cleveland High School Alumni Association vice president.
Barton, Class of ’54, said students were embarrassed that they weren’t able to raise more. That year, at the suggestion of their principal, they used the money to buy 131 acres of logged land in what is now Issaquah. Students worked to restore the land, planting trees and building trails and facilities for visitors.
After World War II, students in Cleveland’s metal shop made a brass plaque with the names of alumni who died fighting the war. They attached it to a large, flat boulder situated in a clearing amid Sitka spruce, big-leaf maple, Douglas fir and Western red cedar.
Another plaque was attached to honor two more alumni who died in World War II, and a third plaque was added to include alumni killed in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Every year, the school and association honored them in a ceremony at the forest on the Friday before Memorial Day. Three years ago, the plaques were pried from the rock face and stolen.
Roger Startzman, the forest’s caretaker, said a homeless man living in the forest may have taken them, along with virtually every other sign in the forest and on surrounding properties.
“Who knows why?’’ he said.
The alumni association was aghast. They decided to raise funds for a replacement — a granite one that in Barton’s words would last for thousands of years, be difficult to move, and have little resale value.
Members geared up for a fundraising campaign, but a single donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, cut a check last year for the entire amount: $13,064.32.
Now, all 43 fallen alumni are etched on a single granite stone prominently seated at the head of the meadow closest to the entrance.
Startzman, a Navy veteran who has overseen the forest for the past nine years, said the monument’s placement has created a more sanctified feeling to the grounds.
“It gives you a feeling of pride to be here,’’ said Startzman, who served in Vietnam during the 1970s.
Some veterans at Friday’s ceremony were older than the monument, and they recalled their own service or that of fallen friends.
Emil Martin, 94, Class of ’40, who served in the South Pacific during World War II, remembered his friend Robert Kennewick, who played baseball, football and basketball, and also worked on the stage crew during theater productions in high school.
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Kennewick was a member of the Cleveland High French Language Club, Hi-Y, the Boys’ Club and the High School Coordinating Class, according to “Honored Dead,” Patricia Sullivan Rosenkranz’s book about Cleveland’s fallen veterans. In 1941, he was elected class president.
After high school, Kennewick worked at Boeing, studied engineering at the University of Washington and enlisted in the Army Air Forces in 1943. It was a life trajectory that any current Cleveland student would recognize.
But Kennewick was killed a year later, flying a B-17 bomber over Germany when another, damaged B-17 crashed into him.
During the ceremony, Brent Jones, Seattle Public Schools’ chief strategy and partnerships officer, said the memorial forest is an apt metaphor for trauma and the power of nature to heal.
The forest, he said, had experienced the traumas of being twice logged, burned in parts and scarred by railroad tracks. Over the years, it had been neglected.
But those traumas, he said, camouflaged the underlying beauty of the place, and the renewal it is now experiencing.
“This forest is a place of nurturing and teaching,’’ he said. “Look around you. New trees have been planted and are thriving. Youth Corps have created trails and bridges. The camouflage of trauma and neglect have given way to a rebirth in environmental learning and preservation.”
The new memorial, he said, was not merely a replacement of names but “a way to connect with the aspects of humanity that make us all better people.”
And so all those many years ago, the students at Cleveland who worried about the value of their gift may now take comfort in knowing they may have given the most enduring gift of all.