The Second World
War began on September 1, 1939. My family heard about it on a radio at
gas station somewhere in the plains heading toward Yellowstone Park. Later,
at the Liberty Theatre, we saw newsreels
of German battleships shelling Schleswig-Holstein. The war didn't seem
too close until Pearl Harbor, but then it dominated every aspect of life.
The Monday after Pearl Harbor, Mr. Underbrink
called an assembly to talk of what might lie ahead. He had tears in his
eyes and spoke with difficulty. He harked back to the first war when he
was the principal. My mother recalled his speech in 1917 when he left
for the army.
For high school boys
there was a big unknown out there and by 1944 there were already deaths
from our class, and several from other classes. Life went on, of course.
Saddle shoes were in vogue, khaki pants, argyle sweaters, and girls wore
skirts and sweaters. There was "sock hop" dancing in the gym
during the three lunch periods. Sports seemed to take on added importance
and the high spot for the class of '44 was the untied, unbeaten softball
teams which featured stalwarts like Daryl Luce,
Gordon Olson, Paul
Schaefer, John Kruckman and others. The "Nautilus"
for 1944 is on my bookshelf; many of the kids are dead now, most of the
teachers are, but names and faces stay in memory.
Bergstrom coached football and basketball. His
skills soon made him the head coach at Bradley University. My parents
knew Larry Crawford who taught typing and coached
track. My father was a friend of A. E. "Pop"
Johnson who taught science, including chemistry. We visited Pop at a summer
camp for boys he ran in northern Wisconsin. Pop was, for years, director
of the chamber of commerce. "Ole" Olson
taught general science. He was a forceful, nice guy. Miss
June Miller taught history, and for me made it a lifelong interest. Miss
Anna Johnson taught English. She introduced me to the pleasures of poetry,
especially Shakespeare, by reading aloud. Until that time I hadn't realized
that poetry can be music. Edgar Russell taught
business courses like commercial arithmetic and bookkeeping. He always
wore black suits with splashes of chalk where he had banged erasers together.
I remember how sad he seemed and how the class laughed when he told me
it looked as if I'd be the first person to ever flunk commercial arithmetic,
but he relented and squeezed me by with a D. Kermit
Dehl taught English and somehow made the study of grammar interesting.
Once he compared grammar with architecture, a simile that helped me years
later in college rhetoric. C. Wayne Andrews taught
manual training and shop. He was self-effacing and effective. Once Mr.
Underbrink came into the shop and stood behind a student at a wood turning
lathe. A chunk of wood spun off and narrowly missed the principal. "Andy"
observed quietly that the students were trained not to stand within lathe
range. Under Andy's guidance a number of boys made solid model airplanes
to be used by flight trainees in recognition training. There were other
teachers, of course. I didn't realize until years later in college and
graduate school how good many of them were.
Over the years I've
bored people with stories about Marlon Brando, who
was at LTHS in 1944. He came from some other school, lived out of town,
east of the river and didn't mix with other students. I sat across from
him in a study hall in the school cafeteria for several months and he
never spoke. He was small, but muscular and one morning he turned on a
much bigger boy who was hitting him with spit balls. The resulting fight
brought Mr. Underbrink to restore order. I'll
never forget his comment to Brando, that "you'll never amount to
anything." At that time most would have agreed.