Five WWII Veterans to Attend Osceola Mills All Class Reunion

OSCEOLA MILLS – Every three years, the town of Osceola Mills hosts a gathering of a select number of individuals who have something unique in common.

The Osceola Mills Alumni Association All Class Reunion will be held Sept. 28-29 this year at the Columbia Fire Hall in Osceola Mills, providing an opportunity to gather for those who graduated from Osceola Mills High School and those who attended the junior high school and all those who attended the schools and then moved to Philipsburg when the schools were closed.

This is becoming more and more of an elite group because the high school closed in 1958 and the junior high school students moved to Philipsburg in 1991.

According to Michael Burns, president of the alumni association, this year is special because the class of 1944 is celebrating their 75th class reunion with five members of that class who served in World War II and who will be attending.

Of the class of 1944, there are eight veterans still living and one lady who, unfortunately, is ill with Alzheimer’s disease, Burns said.

Originally, when the reunions were first being planned, the committee established a cut-off date due to the large number of possible attendees and the difficulty of finding a venue large enough, so the first reunion included the classes of 1919 through 1962.

The first known high school was built in 1906, Burns said, with the first graduating class in 1907. An annex to the school was built in 1929. The 1906 structure replaced a building constructed in 1875, which had replaced a building destroyed in the “big fire.”

The school graduated 60 students between 1888 and 1906, 19 boys and 41 girls. After that, there were 1,483 graduates between 1907 and 1958.

Burns noted that the numbers may not be completely accurate. He said the number was taken from the list published in newspapers and he is aware there were actually more that received their diplomas, but the best lists came from the newspapers of the time.

The school was a junior/senior high school until grades 10-12 moved to Philipsburg.

It was after the second reunion was held that someone suggested adding three new classes to the list from the junior high school, and this year the classes of 1978, 1979 and 1980 were added, as they had attended the junior high school, Burns said.

The first reunions were held at Christ the King Church’s social hall in Houtzdale, but when the new fire hall was built in Osceola Mills, the committee was able to move the reunion to their hometown.

Those from the class of 1944 planning to attend include Bill “Mope” Hess, Navy, who served aboard the USS Kidd in the Pacific Theater at Marianas, Philippines, Guam and Okinawa and then went on to serve in the army from 1949 through 1953 in Korea; Irvin C. Gers, Navy, a Sea-bee who served in the Pacific in Okinawa; George “Broky” Brocail, Navy, Mount St. Mary College in the Navy Pilot Program; Lester “Bud” Kennedy, Army MP serving in Germany; and Don “Torchy” Stevens, Navy, EM School, MD. He was assigned to the Amphibious Shoemaker, but the death of his second brother in Europe made him ineligible for overseas duty due to the Sullivan Act, Burns said, so he finished his enlistment at Philadelphia Naval Yard.

Burns added that the other veterans not attending include Rob Hickok, Navy; Jim Rorhbach, Navy; and John Ryan, Navy.

The alumni also include some notable residents and former residents of Osceola Mills, Burns said.

Frank Wawrynovic was an advanced scout for the 29th Division and he landed on Omaha Beach during the first wave on June 6, 1944. His training with British Commandos ultimately saved his life, Burns said, and he returned home after a year and a half in the hospital after being wounded June 18.

Burns said, “He was a true hero, a philanthropist and gentleman. His self-written story in the World War II museum archives in New Orleans is a classic story of heroism and bravery.”

Another notable resident is James “Jimmy” Earnest, who was first trumpet for many well-known bands during the Big Band Era including Guy Lombardo and Fred Waring.

Burns noted also Bill Luther, a star athlete in both football and baseball. He played for Penn State championship teams and then became a football coach for Bellefonte High School and was an announcer for PSU sports.

Since the last reunion, 110 classmates have passed. Burns said he tries to keep track of those numbers between each reunion, with the help of other committee members and friends.

While this is an important year for the Osceola Mills Alumni, Burns said it is also a difficult one because the future of the reunions is in doubt. The committee members have been doing the work since 1989 and would like to hand over the reunion to a new generation. However, no one has stepped forward to take up the work.

Burns said that he has all the information ready to be handed over to new committee members and he is more than willing to help with the transition when someone steps up to the plate so that the reunions can continue for many more years.

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