In 2014, I volunteered for the South Park High School (SPHS) 100th Anniversary Celebration committee and had an opportunity to research the accomplishments of former students. While doing this, I became more aware of and interested in former students who had lost their lives in service, from World War I through the Iraq War.
A monument in front of the school honors 118 former students who stepped forward when America needed them most and perished during World War II.
Who were they? Who else? What other wars? Were they scholars, musicians, athletes? It occurred to me that each of them sat in the same classrooms, walked the same hallways, and navigated the experience of South Park that each of us had, we of South Park.
I wondered about all of them. Did they think about their future? Or were they, like me, just trying to figure out adolescence? They were our friends, our relatives, our neighbors. They played on our team, they went to our church, they walked the same streets. And I wondered how they met their fate in service to our nation.
So I began to look for each of them— in the yearbooks, libraries, newspapers, and on the Internet.
In March 2016, supported by the SPHS Alumni Association, my research was printed and is now available at South Park in a book called Our Fallen Warriors—Remembered. I’ve donated my work, and all proceeds are directed to the Mallion-McKeever Award. Alex Mallion was the first to die in 1918, and David McKeever was the most recent battle loss in 2004.
The book includes many stories and pictures of nearly all of them. I learned that 165 men and one woman lost their lives. Their average age was 24. Five diedas prisoners of war, and more than 30 remain missing in action. Two classmates later served together and lost their lives when their ship was sunk. Three—neighbors and classmates—lost their lives during the D-Day invasion in the same unit. While America grieved for the USS Juneau and the five Sullivan brothers, SPHS shared the loss. Familiar battle site names, in each of five wars, are present throughout. It’s been extraordinary, really.
It’s hard to put down. I’ve continued the search and post new information on the school website (www.gosparks.org) under the Alumni link. Called “OFWR-Postscript,” it is under the Our Fallen Warriors Remembered link—new or additional information, family stories, pictures, etc.
Recently, I learned that George Dailey (SPHS 1940) was a student at Buffalo State when he left school to sign up with the
Navy. As a fighter pilot, he served in combat aboard the USS San Jacinto in the Pacific. On a combat mission in September 1944, he lost his life. Ten days prior, a shipmate of his had been shot down and rescued by a submarine in the area. The rescued pilot, George H. W. Bush, went on to become our 41st president.
I wrote President Bush a note, telling him about the Fallen Warriors project, and asked if he had any recollection of Dailey. He wrote back.
The only “happy ending,” albeit bittersweet, to all these stories is that we keep their memories alive. We of South Park remember all of them.
Matt Parsons, ’77, a former Buffalo Police homicide investigator, became a cybercrime expert and retired in 2011 as assistant director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.