Poly class graduated into war

The Education Beat

Reunions: Memories of `a serious time' and shared experiences bring these men together every month.

November 21, 2001|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

GOOD THING the Polytechnic Institute Class of 1942 meets monthly. Any more often, says Jim Fisher, organizer of the reunions, "and these guys might actually remember that they tell the same stories over and over."

They meet in American Legion and Knights of Columbus halls around town. Those who can still imbibe have a beer or a glass of wine. Then comes lunch and those stories - of World War II, their days as students at North and Calvert and, of course, the legendary Poly principal of 38 years, Wilmer A. Dehuff.

The late Dehuff led me to this little band of Poly graduates, who started meeting monthly after their 50th reunion nine years ago. Earlier reunions had been every five years, "but, frankly, we started to lose classmates, and we felt the need to get together more often," says Fisher.

Two years ago in this column, I asked readers to nominate a "Maryland Educator of the Century." Dehuff won by a landslide, overwhelming the equally revered mid-century principal at City College, Philip H. "Doc" Edwards. "Those Poly boys stuffed the ballot box," I wrote, meaning that they had voted early and often.

The Class of '42 took umbrage, inviting me (with tongues in cheek) to break bread. One luncheon led to another. Nine men attended the November reunion, all between 76 and 78, each married for at least 50 years, each having served in some capacity in World War II, each with a Dehuff story.

Over soup and sandwiches at the Parkville American Legion, they pored over the official class photo - 520 young men in tuxedos and not a smile among them. Dehuff sits in the middle at stage front, his face partially obscured by a clunky 1940s-style microphone. He, too, isn't saying "cheese."

Maybe it was the uncertainty. Maybe the fear. Poly's Class of 2002 will graduate in similar circumstances. "It was a serious time," remembers Fisher, a retired lawyer and contractor. "I guess it was because we all knew we were going into the war." Many in the class, Fisher among them, enlisted soon after graduation, some lying about their age.

Graduates of Poly, with its strong pre-engineering program, became mechanics and technicians, radio operators and pilots. A. Don Schmidt ended up observing weather in South America. "We were good around the machinery of war," says Frank Blaha, who served as a radio technician.

At least 15 of their classmates died in combat, says Barbara Stricklin, director of the Poly Foundation, and a few more were lost in the Korean War. Fifty-nine years later, nearly 200 members of the class are dead. The men who meet monthly clip obituaries and pass them around over soup and sandwiches. Someone always brings a yearbook for identifying a departed classmate.

"Graduates from the war years are among the most loyal to Poly," says Stricklin, who has current addresses for 300 of the 1942 graduates. Two-thirds of them still live in Maryland.

As for Dehuff, he was both feared and revered, remembers Jack Trenner, the youngest of this group at 76. (Trenner entered college as a sophomore and eventually became assistant general manager of the Bethlehem Steel plant.) Bill Schaake recalls that David E. Weglein, then superintendent of Baltimore schools, "was Dehuff's boss, but he couldn't tell him what to do."

Dehuff would cruelly dress down students for minor infractions. Fisher says the principal once told him, "You're disgusting." But to a man, these alumni are thankful for Dehuff's strict discipline.

"The things we learned from Dehuff stood us well for life," says Max N. Wiener, a bombardier in the war.

At one of the sessions, I checked the long-term memories of the Poly grads. Most had forgotten that St. Louis beat the Yankees in the 1942 World Series, that actress Carole Lombard died in a plane crash and that Bambi and Holiday Inn were the year's hit movies.

The war, though, is burned into their memories. There was a murmur of recognition when I mentioned Navy pilot David Mason's famous message from the South Pacific on Jan. 8, 1942. These Poly boys, who became men in the war, will never forget it. "Sighted [enemy] sub," Mason radioed. "Sank same."

State science test results in line with national scores

Maryland is America in miniature in the 2000 science results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), released yesterday. Thirty-nine percent of Maryland fourth-graders scored below the basic level in science, 36 percent at the basic level, 23 percent at the proficient level and 3 percent at the advanced level. Nationally, the percentages in the four categories were just about the same: 36, 37, 24 and 3.

Maryland and national results were even more similar in eighth-grade science. Forty-one percent of Maryland students scored below basic, 31 percent basic, 26 percent proficient and 3 percent advanced. The national percentages differed only slightly.

NAEP defines basic as denoting "partial mastery" of science knowledge and skills. Students proficient in science demonstrate "solid academic performance," while the advanced level signifies "superior performance."

Nationally and in Maryland, the science assessment showed no significant change since 1996, the last time science knowledge was tested.

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