Gordon College News Service
September 23, 2011
(This story appeared September 26, 2011, in the print and online editions of The Salem News.)
Danvers, MA – The Peabody High School class of 1946 did not have to learn about World War II in their history classes, they lived through it as teenagers. “The school let us leave three months early for training,” said Charles Lawrence, 83, whose yearbook ambition —“to be in the U.S. Navy” —was fulfilled as a senior in high school.
Lawrence is on the class of 1946 committee, which organized its 65th class reunion for Friday, September 23 at the Danversport Yacht Club. Of the original class, 91 alumni were listed in the class directory as deceased. But 53 people (including spouses) gathered at the Lighthouse Point room at noon on Friday for a special lunch, entertainment by Julie Zielski, and social time.
“We have traced all except two people,” said Irene Zielski, 84, another member of the class committee and an employee for 40 years in the city clerk’s office. “Some faces you recognize right away,” she said. “Some you don’t even know.”
Their class first met every five to ten years but at their 60th reunion decided to meet more often and had a 62nd year reunion in 2008. “The hard part is tracing those that are deceased,” said Lawrence.
While some members of the Peabody High class now live in Florida, California and Canada, most are still living on the Northshore. Katherine Wilson (nee Dluznieska), 83, has lived her entire life in South Peabody. “This area used to be all farms,” she said.
As a young girl Wilson spent most of her time on her father’s farm. Despite this she still found a husband from Texas. “My brother brought him home from the war for Thanksgiving because Texas was too far,” she said.
Henry Wilson, Katherine’s husband, fought in WWII, in the Korean War and in the Vietnam War. For two years he and Katherine’s only form of communication was hand-written letters. “A couple times he couldn’t write and I thought, ‘oh no, he’s met a Japanese girl,’” Katherine said.
As well as taking their classmates and fiancés, the war also pulled away many of the high school students’ teachers. “All our male teachers were called into service,” said Pauline Bakeras, 82. “We just had female teachers. ‘Military Substitutes’ they were called.”
For many, however, the war remained a distant reality and had little effect on their immediate lives. When thinking of her teenage years, Eunice Bathelemy, 82, recalled football games and Frank Sinatra. “I would listen to Frankie on the radio,” she said. “The only time I knew what was going on in the war was when I went to the movies. My parents were the kind that didn’t talk politics in front of me.”
Besides graduating the year after Germany’s surrender, and living through the peak of Frank Sinatra’s career, Peabody High’s class of 1946 has other claims to fame.
“One of our classmates, Paul Liacos, became a state justice,” Lawrence said. “And we were the last class to graduate from the steps of Peabody City Hall.” The building was apparently condemned later that year. “When I was getting my diploma the ceiling plaster fell on my head,” Bakeras said.