In search of Roman’s ‘lost boys’ of World War I
By Chris Gibbons
via the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper's philly.com web site
"I resolved to find what remained of Company D for (my grandfather), and for (his fellow soldiers), and for myself, as well, and complete a story begun on a hot July day so long ago, when young men raced across open fields toward machine guns and disappeared into history."
— From "The Remains of Company D: A Story of the Great War" by James Carl Nelson
As I recently walked down the first-floor hallway of my old high school, located at Broad and Vine, my footsteps sharply echoed off the walls, a stark reminder that it was late afternoon and that I was alone in the normally bustling, but now deserted, corridors.
Before that day, I had been poring over old yearbook photos, and I immediately noticed that the interior, with its beautiful early 20th-century architecture, looked strikingly similar to the way it had looked in 1917. Sunbeams escaped through open classroom doors, and their ribbons of light streamed across the hallway. Dust motes hung motionless within their illumination, but then suddenly swirled into motion. Just an errant draft? Or do the spirits of the boys I had been searching for still walk these halls?
I stopped at the end of the hall and looked up at the plaques that display the names of Roman Catholic High School alumni who had lost their lives in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf wars. As I stared at the long list of names, well over a hundred of them, I knew that the young men who had been eluding me would not be found there. However, I hoped that my visit would serve as motivation to not give up on what had now become a very difficult task.
I touched the raised metal letters of the names on the plaques and could only shake my head in frustration. "Who were the boys from World War I?" I softly whispered. I futilely hoped that the ghosts of the past would somehow miraculously answer my question, but the deserted hallway remained silent.
Roman was founded by Irish immigrant Thomas Cahill in 1890, and was the first free Catholic high school in the country. By the time the United States had entered World War I in 1917, the school was already more than a quarter-century old. Yet many alumni, myself included, had long assumed that there was no commemorative plaque for World War I because no Roman alumni had died in that war. However, as my interest and knowledge of the Great War deepened over the years, I began to doubt this assumption. After I read James Nelson's brilliant book The Remains of Company D, I resolved to finally learn the truth regarding World War I and the lost boys from Roman.
Read the entire article on the philly.com web site here:
External Web Site Notice: This page contains information directly presented from an external source. The terms and conditions of this page may not be the same as those of this website. Click here to read the full disclaimer notice for external web sites. Thank you.