A high school's forest of memories
Seattle Times staff reporter
To keep dry from a heavy downpour, students and alumni from Cleveland High School huddled shoulder-to-shoulder under umbrellas and awnings at the entrance of an Eastside forest that students purchased 60 years ago to memorialize their peers who died in World War II.
The 10th annual trek of students and alumni to the Cleveland Memorial Forest on Friday was cut short by the rain, but not before Cleveland senior Clara Ulugalu could be seen drying the wetness from her cheeks.
Ulugalu got emotional after she and senior classmate LaSharon Walker acted as color guard during the half-hour ceremony. After 1957 graduate Bernie Moskowitz played "Taps" on a bugle, the two students raised the flag from half-staff to full, then lowered, removed and folded it into a neat triangle.
It was the first year that current students were given the honor of raising and lowering the flag at the ceremony.
"I am honored to learn how to do this and then to be able to do it," Ulugalu said. "Because we all know what the flag stands for."
The students also know what the forest stands for.
Cleveland's graduates from 1943 and 1944 raised $500 to buy the forest, 131 acres near Issaquah, as a combined senior-class gift — a way to pay homage to peers who had made the supreme sacrifice for their country.
Forty-one men — 30 veterans from World War II, seven from Korea and four from Vietnam — are memorialized at the forest, their names engraved on three bronze plaques. They are called "Fallen Eagles," a respectful nod to the mascot for the Beacon Hill school.
Ed Boprey, a 1945 graduate who attended Cleveland during the war years, said the upperclassmen raised money through plant sales and selling recyclables, such as newspapers, tires and batteries. One teacher helped out with a $100 loan.
"All the teachers were behind the effort," Boprey said.
They still are. Faith Beatty, who has taught at Cleveland since 1981, considers it her responsibility to educate her students about the memorial forest, and the stories behind it. The forest is owned by the Seattle School District, and while there is no indication the district plans to sell the forest, Cleveland alumni are never secure in that belief. The land is now worth several million dollars.
"I strongly believe we have to keep this a memorial forest," Beatty said. "So I have to educate my students about it all the time so they will continue to carry the banner for us. The students need to feel that they are part of this forest."
About 35 of Cleveland's music and drama students attended the ceremony, which has taken place annually since 1997, always on the Friday before Memorial Day. A choir sang the "Star-Spangled Banner" and the drum line performed. Students read short bios of some of the dead.
They also recited poems, such as this one by classmate Jemeika Berry:
Honored, marching courageous hearts
Through our city's streets
Joyous youth tainted
Overwhelmed by the touch of lethal steel
Boys made men
Sent to be our land's choice
To join in battle on foreign soil
To be the chosen few.
Eight alumni also attended the ceremony, including Dick Kennewick, a 1941 graduate whose twin brother, Bob, was killed over Germany on Dec. 9, 1944.
"This forest is a symbol for all of the kids in Seattle who died in World War II, and other wars, too," Kennewick said.
Most years, the seniors venture past the flagpole deeper into the forest to the Memorial Rock, where the plaques are placed. This year, it was just too muddy.
The school district uses the private forest, located off a winding stretch of Southeast Issaquah-Fall City Road, as a center to teach about nature and ecology. Cleveland freshmen visit the forest soon after enrolling, but the Memorial Day ceremony that allows students to mix with alumni is the most meaningful visit of the year.
"My hope is we won't lose any more Cleveland students to war," said Alison Sing, a 1964 graduate.
If that happens, he said, at least the Cleveland Memorial Forest is there for them.
Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company