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Lodi High's Class of 1943 gather, reminisce on when nation was at war

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Posted: Friday, July 18, 2003 10:00 pm

School was much different 60 years ago.

Audrey McKenzie Boyd remembers being spanked in front of her class by her grade-school teacher.

Mary Kurahara was once caught chewing gum in high school and had to wear the gum on the end of her noise for the rest of the class period.

Boyd and Kurahara were both a part of the Lodi High School Class of 1943, which celebrated its 60-year reunion on Friday afternoon in the Wine and Roses ballroom.

Indeed high school was much different for them.

While they were in high school, 29 of their male classmates missed graduation day because they were fighting in World War II and all the Japanese-American faces had disappeared from the 11th grade classrooms when they and their families were deported from Lodi and the rest of the West Coast to relocation camps inland in the months following Japan's Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Despite these tribulations, the members of the class of 1943 continue to meet for a reunion every few years. They make sure to invite everybody, including those who didn't have the opportunity to walk down the graduation aisle with them.

Vernon Gross takes a photos of Alice Schroeder, seated, Milton Schroeder, right, Grace Gammill Gross, center, and Emerald Sayler on Friday during the Lodi High School Class of 1943's 60-year reunion at Wine and Roses. (Jennifer M. Howell/News-Sentinel)

In 1943, 213 students graduated. As of this month, 120 of them are deceased, but scores of them were in attendance Friday at the class' 60th reunion.

Boyd, who was the class president in 1943, said that her classmates haven't changed much, except that they're slowing down a little. She hopes that Lodi continues to treasure its history, traditions, openness and especially the love she remembers growing up in the then-small town.

"Nowadays we're becoming strangers in so many ways," she said.

Raymen Pfeifle, who has been his class' treasurer for 40 years, remembers when he could walk down the street and know most of the people he saw.

"My grandchildren used to think that I knew everyone," Pfeifle said.

The November after he graduated from high school, Pfeifle went into the Army where he served until July 11, 1947. When he left town, Lodi consisted of about 13,000 people. After he was discharged, he bought a house for $10,000, (which he says is worth $300,000 now), and got married.

Now he and his wife, Regina, spend time in their garden (they have 29 very healthy tomato plants), and Pfeifle fishes for salmon and striped bass with his long-time friend and classmate Delbert Thurman.

Thurman, who also still lives in Lodi, left school a couple months before the June graduation to join the 10th Mountain Division which saw combat in Italy in the closing days of World War II. The division was trained in the Colorado Rockies and even included a special ski unit. The most famous member of the division was former Republican Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate and presidential nominee Bob Dole.

"I went into the service because it was expected, but I wasn't too sure what I was getting into," Thurman said.

After his tour of duty was over, he settled back down in Lodi and developed a love for gold dredging. While Thurman appreciates the convenience of the wide variety of stores Lodi has to offer, he also wishes that the town would have stayed smaller.

Steve Furry, Paul VanSteenserge, James Boyd and Harlan Neer all left school before graduation to join the service as well. The high school awarded most of them their diplomas anyway, and it was their mothers who walked forward on graduation day to receive the certificates for their sons. Furry served his county for about three years before he came back to Lodi to join the San Joaquin County agricultural department.

VanSteenserge was the first person in his family to leave Lodi for the service, but he remembers good times in high school where he played football, listened to the big bands of Glen Miller and Harry James and went to dances at the Civic Auditorium and Micke Grove where they had an open-air ballroom.

Boyd signed up for the service in 1942 because he figured that the draft was coming soon anyway and he would beat them to the punch. He decided to join the Marines and said that they "punched him anyway" when he joined.

He spent his time until 1946 in the Pacific in the Marshall Islands and surrounding area. He was on his way to Japan for the planned invasion when the U.S. dropped the atomic bombs in August 1945. After the service, he went to University of California, Berkeley and eventually got a job with the telephone company in Lodi.

"They asked me if I could climb poles. I told them that I didn't know about poles, but I had spent four year climbing up coconut trees in the Pacific. They hired me on the spot," Boyd said.

Neer may have come the farthest to be with his classmates on Friday. He resides in Sun City, Ariz. and travel 729 miles to get to Lodi.

"Anyway you look at it, there are no shortcuts," he said of his journey.

In 1941 he started a stint with the Navy and got out on April Fool's Day four years later. Now that he's retired from his job as a golf and country club maintenance specialist, he enjoys wood workings, silver-crafting, and cutting and polishing precious stones.

Sports were an important aspect of Lodi life in the 1940s just as they are today. Larry Anundson ran the 880 and the mile relay for Lodi High track team. He remembers competing at the Fresno Relays when he was in high school and getting first place in his event. When he wasn't working, he and his friends also played pool and bowled to keep themselves entertained.

Lloyd Hittle also competed in track in high school as well as tumbling and basketball. His first love however, was always baseball. He was drafted to the service on his 19th birthday, Feb. 21, 1943. He served in the Army Air Force, got discharged in 1945 and eventually ended up playing minor league baseball for the Stockton Ports.

"My friend Jack told me to go pitch for Port's batting practice, and the next day they had me in uniform," Hittle said.

He played baseball for nine years "from West Coast to East Coast and Canada to Mexico," he said.

He and his wife have been married now for almost 57 years. While they spend their summers running an RV camp in Lake Almanor, they always come back to Lodi.

Mauch Yamasaita also played baseball in high school, but not until he was removed by the federal government to a relocation camp in Arkansas. He remembers that his baseball team had six Lodi players on it, and was one of the championship teams.

Eventually he was drafted - right out of the relocation camp - and was assigned to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Composed of Japanese-Americans, it was the most decorated combat unit in American military history. In 1945, members of the 442nd liberated the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau in Southern Germany. Yamasaita's service with the United States Army lasted for some two years.

Katherine Reuscher Holt remembers the last day that her Japanese-American friends were at school.

"I remember looking down to the school lawn where all of our friends stood. It was terrible. I cried and cried," she said.

Kurahara and her good friend Bessie Okuhora both finished high school while they were in internment camps - Kurahara in Arkansas and Okuhora in Arizona.

Both women, after spending some time in college after the war, ended up coming back to Lodi to help their families rebuild all they had lost.

Okuhora remembers that everything her family had owned, except for their house, had been looted and stolen while they were away in the camps. The same thing happened to Kurahara's family.

When they returned to Lodi, both women both worked in fields to make money. Okuhora said that her wage after the war was $299 a month.

"I worked for 90 cents an hour at that time," said Kurahara, adding that she really respects her parents, because they were the ones who had lost everything and had to start over again.

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