Alannah Graves was out of the country in July when her great uncle was buried at Port Clinton’s Riverview Cemetery, a funeral for which her family had waited decades.
John Kovach Jr. was a technician fifth grade in the Ohio National Guard’s Company C, 192nd Tank Battalion and fought in the Battle of Bataan in the Philippines during World War II. He endured the gruesome Bataan Death March to a Japanese prison camp, but died of dysentery in the camp soon after in November, 1942.
Seniors Da'von Brown, standing, is encouraged by Frankie Veres as they prepare their scripts for the Fallen Heroes Memorial Program at Waite High School in Toledo.
He was buried in an unmarked mass grave in Manila, and 75 years later his remains were brought home to be laid to rest.
“I wasn’t able to go, and I was really disappointed,” Alannah said.
But the Waite High School senior is making up for missing the funeral during the Toledo Public Schools Honors World War II class Fallen Heroes Memorial Program beginning at 10 a.m. Thursday. She’s among about 40 students who will eulogize the fallen, all Toledoans who served in the U.S. military and were killed during that war.
Alannah, 17, will memorialize her great uncle, someone she never met but spent an entire semester getting to know.
“I hope I make my family proud,” she said. “He did amazing things, and he went through a lot.”
The program is in its fifth year and the brain child of TPS social studies instructor Joe Boyle. Mr. Boyle’s class is a distance learning course, so high school juniors and seniors from across the Toledo school system can enroll.
Every year he assigns each student one of the 1,100 Toledoans who were killed in the war. Their task is to spend the semester researching the person’s life, time in service, and death, and ultimately write a eulogy to deliver in December. This year’s Fallen Heroes Memorial Program falls on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
“The whole point of this program is to take these guys from being names on a granite wall and making them into people again,” Mr. Boyle said. “I get blown away by meeting 30 to 40 new guys every year.”
Waite senior Da’Von Brown, 17, researched Pvt. Louis Feher, a 1933 Waite graduate who served in E Company, 415th Infantry Regiment, 104th division. He was killed in action in the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest in France in November, 1944.
Da’Von learned a lot about Private Feher’s military service, but what he found more interesting was his personal life. Before he joined the military, his day-to-day life likely closely mirrored Da’Von’s.
Waite High School senior Kyle VanDyne, center, smiles as he listens to his fellow social studies students practice reading their scripts for the Fallen Heroes Memorial Program at Waite High School in Toledo.
“I moved onto his street, and while I’m doing research on my computer on that street, I find out that I walk past his house every single day,” he said. “We went to the same schools, we probably had the same classes. It puts life into perspective.”
Several students were able to connect with their soldier’s surviving relatives, and at least five of those family members plan to attend Thursday's program, Mr. Boyle said.
Waite senior Brian Perrine, 18, is eulogizing Pvt. Hilary C. Dietzer, who also died in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. He was able to track down Private Dietzer’s great niece, who lives in Holland, Mich., and ask her what she knew about her great uncle.
He learned Private Dietzer was a conscientious objector, a fact he doesn’t believe he would have found combing through old documents.
“Through her I was able to find out stories that she was told growing up about how he was so brave,” Mr. Perrine said. “That’s critical information. Connecting with people is the biggest part of this project.”
Jacqueline Washburne’s father made it home from the war, but he died a short time later from health complications that developed while he was a prisoner of war when Mrs. Washburne was only 2 years old.
She barely knew her father, but she intends to drive from Indiana to Toledo to listen as student Chris Henley memorializes him.
“I think it’s a great way to honor the fallen soldiers,” she said. “I think they are honoring it and recognizing it a lot more than our generation did. We never talked about the war part, ever, in our house. It was not a topic that was brought up.”
As the students worked out the final kinks in their eulogies from the Waite High School stage Wednesday, many said the stories they researched will stick with them long after the semester ends.
“He sacrificed his life for a good cause,” senior Miguel Ruiz said of Pfc. Joseph A. Dross. “Nobody can forget about what they did.”
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