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Mission Bay High School's Vietnam War Memorial

Beach & Bay Press (October 16, 2008)

Rita Price (left) and Judith Lancefield embrace at the dedication ceremony for Mission Bay High School's Vietnam War Memorial
MBHS alum honor fallen soldiers with renovated monument
    by BILL SWANK/ Beach & Bay Press/ Thursday, October 16, 2008

Fifty years ago, two girls loved the same boy. His name was Walter “Magoo” Stevens. The women met for the first time last Friday at the dedication of the renovated Vietnam War Memorial monument at Mission Bay High School. As they embraced, both women cried.

Judith Lancefield, 68, of Portland, Ore., was Stevens’ sweetheart when they graduated from MBHS in 1958. Magoo also dated an older sister of 58-year-old Rita Gaffney Price of Pacific Beach. Rita had a childhood crush on the handsome young Marine who would visit her family home and play with the neighborhood kids.

In May 1966, Stevens, Marines sergeant, was killed while leading his men in Vietnam. His name along with five other Mission Bay graduates — David Rose (class of 1958), Richard Friend (1965), William Fix and James Gulie (1967) and Charles Goldmeyer (1968) — appear on the newly renovated monument outside the school auditorium.

The event was the fulfillment of a dream for Rita Price, who 10 years earlier began her campaign to restore the forgotten ground level memorial. She first raised money, mostly her own, for plaques to identify the site as a Vietnam War memorial and to add Stevens’ name. The project didn’t gain traction until Cheryl Seelos became principal of Mission Bay High School and Walter Schneider, Stevens’ best friend, began thinking about his 50th high school reunion. In 2007, a Junior Marine Corps ROTC program, headed by Lt. Col. Brian Jostens, was added to the Mission Bay curriculum. Jostens, Sgt. Maj. Mark Harrell and the ROTC cadets cleaned the area and conducted Memorial Day services in May 2008.

In response to a Beach & Bay Press article at that time, almost $2,000 was raised by alumni from the MBHS Class of 1958 and other individuals. During the summer, Seelos and Jostens formalized plans to beautify the entire garden area. The xeriscape was donated by school secretary Pam Connelly and her husband.

Jostens assumed responsibility for the actual memorial, which he designed and built. The plaques were cleaned, polished and anodized without cost by San Diego Plating. A black granite base with gold highlights was donated by San Diego Granite. When individuals at these businesses learned the memorial was for Mission Bay High School, they wanted to give something to their school. Both of these men had played ball for Coach Dennis Pugh. The dedication ceremony was part of a five-day 50th reunion celebration for the MBHS Class of 1958.

Seelos and ASB president Lee Houck spoke of service, patriotism and sacrifice in their remarks to an estimated crowd of 75 primarily members from the Class of 1958 and other interested Pacific Beach residents. A recitation of the poem, “In Flanders Fields,” struck a chord with the audience. Former ASB president Chuck McGregor of San Diego was moved by the ceremony.

“The ROTC, the principal, the teachers, the students, our classmates... I’m proud to be a member of the Mission Bay Class of 1958. Walt and Dave were our friends. I’m so proud of our class. It was a wonderful event,” McGregor said.

The Rose family was represented at the dedication by Chuck and Sandy Devereux. An older brother, Daniel Rose, was killed in a traffic accident during his senior year at the Citadel in Charleston, S.C. The only surviving family member is Terry Rose of Sacramento. Terry, a Mission Bay graduate, was in his senior year at the Citadel in September 1966 when the middle son, David, an Army lieutenant, was killed in action. At the time, Terry was captain of the Citadel rifle team and the top collegiate marksman in America. As the sole surviving son, he was not given his commission in the Army and became a civil engineer instead.

Aline Minga Brown, class of 1958, and her husband, Don, drove to the reunion from Washington state.

“We didn’t get to our hotel until 1 a.m. on Friday and had to get up early to attend the service. I didn’t want to miss it. To me and my husband, it was more important than the reunion,” she said.

Susan Senour Wraight, ROTC queen from the class of 1962, attended with her husband, David, and son, Ian.

“It’s difficult to put my emotions into words,” Wraight said. “To see the large turnout honor those who gave their lives for our country was gratifying. It’s nice to know that our generation still cares about such things, but I was also very impressed with the students who attended. They were respectful and wanted to learn about the memorial. I was treated so nicely by a student named Jonte.”

Following the tour, the class of 1958 was treated to lunch donated by Submarina of Pacific Beach in the auditorium. ASB advisor Emmitt Dodd, who organized the luncheon, said, “It was an honor to host the class of 1958. They were the pioneers at our school. It was wonderful to see the kids interact with the alums. They were dancing together with the students during lunch just like it was the 1950s again. The kids loved it.”

Bill Dague, class of 1958, of Magalia, Calif., said he had a great time at the service.

“The kids were great. They were so friendly and interested in learning about what it was like to go to Mission Bay back in the ’50s. They made us feel like kids again.” Seelos agreed.

“I was delighted to see how open the students and the alumni were to one another. We’ve never had such a large group of former students tour the campus. The interaction in the classrooms was amazing. The morning started with a solemn ceremony and then everyone caught the spirit the class of 1958 brought with them. It was a wonderful opportunity for our students to get a perspective and history from those who attended the school when it was new. They learned some of the traditions and how much the school meant to the alumni. I was so proud of our kids.”

Price reflected on the day: “The Vietnam War Memorial that was re-dedicated at MBHS was a long time coming. It is nice to know that each Memorial Day there will be a tribute to the students who were killed in the Vietnam War. For years, it was just me going over with my clippers to trim back the grass and weeds, standing for a moment of silence to honor my six friends. Now the school is deeply involved. I have told our four grandchildren that they will be the keepers of the Vietnam War Memorial at the school in the years to come, to honor and respect it forever.”

For the Class of 1958, it was a time for tears... and laughter. It was about generations making a connection with one another — young and old together showing respect for fellow Buccaneers who made the supreme sacrifice for our country despite conflicted attitudes on the homefront. It was about sharing the importance of education, public service and the greater good of society.

A special reserved table with settings for Rose and Stevens was prepared for Saturday evening’s reunion dinner party at the Mission Bay Yacht Club. The class of 1958 donated $500 to help pay off the remaining debt on the memorial. Additionally, a Gordon & Smith poster was auctioned for $270.

Floyd Smith is a 1958 classmate and Larry Gordon is from the class of 1957.