Andrew Dys

Rock Hill High class of ’45 remembers graduating in wartime

The Rock Hill High School Class of 1945 held a 70th reunion Friday . Members of the class sing the alma mater: front row from left, Fant Steele, Jerri Crenshaw (Rawls her married name) and Faye Jones (  Faye Lineberger after she was married). Second row, Frances Cunnup Gardner, Roy Dunlap, Frances Sullivan Cauthen, Theron Teagle, Liddie Wallace Hipp, and Richard Denton.
The Rock Hill High School Class of 1945 held a 70th reunion Friday . Members of the class sing the alma mater: front row from left, Fant Steele, Jerri Crenshaw (Rawls her married name) and Faye Jones ( Faye Lineberger after she was married). Second row, Frances Cunnup Gardner, Roy Dunlap, Frances Sullivan Cauthen, Theron Teagle, Liddie Wallace Hipp, and Richard Denton. aburriss@heraldonline.com

For a few minutes Friday afternoon, there was no talk of medications, or aches and pains, or how tough it can be toward the end of nine decades of living.

For the Rock Hill High School class of 1945 – gathering 70 years almost to the day from their graduation at the end of World War II – the talk was of root beer floats, hoop skirts and drive-in burgers that cost a dime.

Kids and grandkids and great-grands, careers and loves held, loves lost – and loves regained.

And yes, kissing in the front seat of a ’37 Chevy.

Of the 139 members of that class, 10 were able to make it to the Golden Corral restaurant at lunchtime Friday for the reunion. Many in the class are gone. A few, nobody knows what happened after high school.

But for those who are still alive, still kicking and breathing and living – people who lived through wars and gas rationing and growing up poor on mill hills when the next meal was not guaranteed – Friday was wonderful.

There were a couple of canes and a few hearing aids and likely a few false teeth, but the smiles were all real and brilliant.

There was Bill Spencer and class vice president Fant Steele, side by side, singing the alma mater. Faye Jones (who was Faye Lineberger after she was married) and Jerri Crenshaw (Rawls her married name) sat next to each other – and it was English class all over again.

Frances Cunnup Gardner was there, and Roy Dunlap and Frances Sullivan Cauthen.

“My father was the superintendent of schools back then, Walter Sullivan, and I never could get away with a thing,” cracked Sullivan Cauthen.

At the reunion were Liddie Wallace Hipp, Theron Teagle and Richard Denton.

Denton looked over at Teagle and said, “He missed graduation in 1945 – didn’t show up.”

Denton then got serious and explained, “Because he was busy saving the rest of us. A real-life hero.”

Teagle and Dunlap were two of many young men in the class of 1945 who were long gone from school by graduation 1945, missing the last year or two of high school because they had enlisted in the service to fight in World War II.

“Graduation day, I was off Okinawa,” Teagle said. “I was at Iwo Jima, too, and the Philippines.”

Dunlap was fighting the enemy in the Army the day diplomas were awarded in 1945. His wife, a year older, went and picked up the certificate after the ceremony and prayed he would come home alive.

To enlist, some of them had parents sign documents. Some lied about their age.

Charles Floyd Hailey took part in the D-Day invasion of France in 1944 instead of studying biology at Rock Hill High. Hailey died last year – just two weeks after returning to Normandy on the 70th anniversary of saving the world as a teen.

All wished he was there Friday.

Leon Comer – who also left high school for the military during World War II – was there Friday in honor of his late wife, Frances Watkins Comer, who was one of the 1945 class stars.

These tough, proud people come from a generation that saved the world from the fascists, then came home and built the new America.

Friday was a tribute to all those classmates who have passed on, as much as a gathering of those who are living. Those who are 86 and 87 and 88 talked of those who did not make it to that age, and the love and joy shared growing up together.

Denton, a poet, wrote one for the occasion that honored all of his classmates, both living and departed.

The group talked of how there were just 11 grades in those days, and how some students graduated as young as 16. They all sang the alma mater from the old days, remembering the words that will not die with age – raising their arms together with the words, “Our dear old Rock Hill High.”

Then they hugged and ate – and remembered.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065 •  adys@heraldonline.com

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