first glance, the old high school annual looks like any vintage
In the traditional style of secondary school publications, it has
a puffed, embossed cover. The rope-like typeface, once gilt-covered,
says “Round Up.” The Western motive continues with an artful image
of a saddled horse bowing its head as if nosing a high-crowned cowboy
hat. Nearby is a campfire with red flames.
Everything matches what you might expect from an annual produced
in El Paso,
which is about as western as you can get in Texas.
But then the eye catches a fainter image above the campfire – the
silhouette of a young serviceman wearing a dress uniform cap. Finally,
in a font left over from the Art Deco days of the previous decade,
is the year this publication covers: 1943.
Any browser who might be a little slow in grasping the symbolism
of the rider-less horse need look no further than pages five and
six, a two-page spread dominated by a large red, white and blue
V. Inside that V, as in V for Victory, are photos and the names
of eight young men, along with the names of four others lacking
photos. All graduates of El
Paso’s Austin High School. All killed in action or missing in
action in a war that for the second time that century had engulfed
One Austin High grad had died at Hickman Field when Japan attacked
Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Another was missing and presumed dead
at Clark Field, in the Phillipines. Someone else was missing in
“We, the staff, dedicate this Round-Up as a loving tribute to those
Austin High students who have made the Supreme Sacrifice, to those
on our far-flung battle fronts, and to all others training to serve
their country, grimly determined that the liberties for which they
fight ‘shall not perish from the earth,’” one of the teenager members
of the school’s annual team wrote for this page.
In addition to photos of former Austin High students who had already
died in the war, the double-spread feature includes a dozen columns
of small-print type listing the names of other graduates (and likely,
some dropouts) who had enlisted or had been drafted into the service.
For a publication put out by a bunch of kids finally through with
the compulsory part of their education, the tone of the yearbook
is decidedly staid. A dozen teenagers who could have been in college
that year, all from Austin High, were dead or missing. And likely
some of those who bought a copy of the 1943 annual would die before
World War II
ended. Of course, any high school annual produced during the war
at any of the nation’s 28,000 high schools would have a similar
look and feel, but El
Paso was different.
The U.S. Army had been a presence in the City of the Pass since
1848. Horseback soldiers stationed at Fort Bliss had protected the
town for nearly a century, first from hostile Indians and later,
Mexican bandits. Even during the early years of World
War II, companies of soon-to-be-permanently-dismounted cavalry
still paraded at the post every Sunday.
Earlier in the war, as Americans tried to recover from the shock
of losing some 3,000 sailors and soldiers at Pearl Harbor, people
in El Paso
worried that the Japanese might try to invade the U.S. via the relatively
unprotected shores of Mexico. Nervous families kept their larders
stocked with as many extra staples as their rationing stamps would
allow them to buy, and survival-minded heads of households got into
the habit of making sure they always had a full tank of gas before
they went to bed at night.
Obviously, the war never touched El
Paso as directly has some had feared early on, but the impact
of the global conflict could be felt by practically everyone in
the mountain-flanked city of 100,000.
Printed on shiny coated stock that has endured through subsequent
American wars in Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East and which should
last for generations more, the Round-Up chonicles what life was
like on the home front.
In addition to those El
Paso high schoolers who entered the military, scores of other
students did their part to support the war effort. Kids from Austin
High collected more scrap metal – 130 tons -- than any other school
Austin High mustered five R.O.T.C. companies that year. The school
also had a co-ed Victory Corps, part of the national High School
Victory Corps organized on Sept. 25, 1942.
The objective of the federally run program was to “foster and promote”
career counseling for “critical services and occupations,” as well
as “wartime citizenship; physical fitness; military drill; competence
in sciences and mathematics; preflight training…; pre-induction
training for critical occupations; and community services.”
In the section devoted to Corps activities at the school, one of
the students wrote: “There is a war to be won; a war for survival;
a war which demands unstinted work and sacrifice and devotion of
every one of us.”
© Mike Cox
- October 9, 2014 column
More "Texas Tales' Columns
Related Topics: WWII
| Columns | Texas
Town List | Texas
Order Books by Mike Cox