Friday, May 28, 1999

Two Teachers try to rekindle patriotism

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        One by one, the names of the men and women from Hamilton County stretch across seven oak panels. The names number 1,855. Each stands for a life lost in World War II.

        The panels will be unveiled at 9 a.m. today during a Memorial Day weekend ceremony at Dater Junior High School in Westwood.

        Lined up side by side, the panels take up as much space as a good-sized picture window. Gazing at them is to stare into the past. I wondered how these people died and who they left behind.

        The panels also offer an opportunity to say thanks. And that was how two Dater teachers, Don Dapper and Jim Noeth, came to this project and today's ceremony.

        Don has a lifelong friend by the name of Ron Puckett. “We've known each other since we were 5.” Ron's father was killed in World War II when Ron was only 21/2 years old.

        Jim's dad made it through the war. But he rarely talks about the battles he fought and the friends he lost in Italy and France.

        Don and Jim did this project in memory of those who died, inspired by those who returned. And they did it for the school's students.

        “Schools rarely do anything patriotic anymore,” Jim told me. “We don't say the Pledge of Allegiance every day.”

        “We don't even talk much about war in history classes,” Don added.

        Little is said of the war dead. Little attention is paid to the names on the list of 1,855 men and women from Hamilton County who lost their lives in World War II.

        So the two teachers ran fund drives at Dater and the school's students contributed to the $3,000 needed to pay for the panels and today's ceremony.

1,855 lives
        For as long as I have been aware of them, I have tried to make sense of lists of dead soldiers on Memorial Day.

        As a little kid, I walked up to Cheviot's fieldhouse with my parents after the Memorial Day parade. We always paused to look at two bronze plaques holding the names of the men and women who served from my hometown.

        At the top of the plaques, 27 names are set off by gold stars. Those soldiers died in combat.

        “Those poor souls,” my mom would always say as she watched my fingers carefully trace the letters of 27 names in bronze, “never came home.”

        Recalling those words reminds me of what war is all about. It is not about glorious battles, military maneuvers to take tactical objectives or conflicts between different forms of government. War is about death. Swift. Sudden. And final.

        Now, because of today's ceremony at Dater, another list and an even larger number of names has me trying to comprehend this loss of life. A list of 1,855 lives.

        That many people would fill a village the size of Batavia, Amelia, Arlington Heights or Newtown. Imagine how you'd feel if a disaster wiped out one of those places.

        I'm sure the people on this list of 1,855 all had hopes and dreams, parents, sweethearts or children.

        Robert Drennan's name is on that list. He planned on being a pipe fitter.

        In 1944, the transport plane he was piloting crashed into the dense terrain between India and China. Not a trace of his plane has ever been found. He was 24.

        He left behind a wife and a son he never saw. His widow, Betty, never remarried.

        “Bob was the only one for me,” she told me. Her husband's photo, he's still young and in uniform, sits on a table in the living room of Betty's Westwood home.

        Betty and Bob were married for just over a year. She's been a widow for 55. “We weren't married long,” she said, “But at least we had that time together.”

        Robert Drennan's name is one of 1,855 on the list, a list representing just one county. And this list of 1,855 is just one of hundreds throughout the Tristate.

        These are lists of people who gave up living so we could have this day to enjoy.

        Some time today, do what they are going to do at Dater Junior High. Pause and remember those poor souls we list in remembrance. In your heart say thanks for their sacrifice.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.