NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — It's one of the most recognizable buildings in East Nashville, but many Nashvillians may not realize it includes a tribute to local men who gave their lives for the country.
East Nashville High School features multiple memorials to former students and a teacher who served in World War II.
The most visible is the clock that sits at the top of the building. It is 59 inches in diameter to represent the 58 former students and one teacher who died while serving in World War II. Former Principal William Henry Oliver came up with the idea during the war. It was sponsored by the class of 1944, and dedicated in 1947.
At the base of the school building, there is also a plaque that features the names of 59 fallen service members from the school.
Around the corner, in the East High Alumni House is another tribute. The Home Economics department created a handmade flag that features blue stars for all the former Eagles who served in the war and returned home, and gold stars for those who lost their lives. Through the years, the large flag was used at alumni events and reunions, but is now framed and preserved at the Alumni House.
All of the tributes are a source of pride for Beverly Kile Garrett, who graduated from the school in 1952 and is on the House Committee for the East High Alumni Association, but she said she wished more people knew the significance of the clock.
"When you know something for so long it is bred in you," said Garrett. "You don’t realize that some people may not know."
Garrett said beloved longtime principal Oliver was the driving force behind the tributes.
"He always thought of the student, and what he could do to help them become people of character," she recalled.
During the war, Oliver also honored students who were serving overseas by writing them letters that were published in the East Nashville High School newsletter. The students' parents would often send them the newsletters so they could keep up with things happening at home. Eventually, the letters were compiled and published in a book called "Dear Joe."
Local amateur historian Steven Schmoldt started researching the 59 East High Eagles who died during the war while he was working at Woodlawn Cemetery. After connecting with some East High alumni, he was given a copy of Oliver's book.
"It's a true time capsule," said Schmoldt. "I read it from cover to cover in one sitting, and I realized Mr. Oliver was once an English teacher, and he is a very eloquent writer."
Schmoldt has been working for the last 15 years to track down information on every one of the so-called boys of East High. After multiple stops at the Metro, State and National Archives he has complied a list of names, dates of service, and photos. He has also traveled around the world to visit their graves.
"I just felt like I was called to take on this project so these guys wouldn’t be forgotten." said Schmoldt.
He has complied his findings on the Boys of East Nashville Facebook page: www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100057609941861
He said he eventually wants to write a book sharing his research so more people can know the stories behind each person who served. Both Schmoldt and Garrett hope as more people learn about members of the East High community who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, they will stop at the school and pay their respects.
"It's worth your while to go up and take a look at the names," said Schmoldt. "They should not be forgotten."
Copies of "Dear Joe" can be purchased through the East Nashville High School Alumni Association for $10. For more information contact Joanna Henderson Blackwell at firstname.lastname@example.org.