GREENSBORO, N.C. — In the shadow of the sounds of the future generation is a quiet portal to the past. The Pearl Memorial Fieldhouse at Greensboro's Grimsley High School is not just a football locker room – it’s a window to history.
“It kind of basically just got forgotten about, and it was used as a storage room. And, when I got here and I got the job, I said, ‘Man, there’s too much history here. It’s too important to too many people. The story needs to be told,’” said Grimsley athletic director Ethan Albright.
Albright, who is a fellow Grimsley alumnus and retired Washington Redskin, felt a calling. He needed to restore the school’s old Memorial Room. The flags, newspapers and pictures now preserve a snapshot in time – a time when Grimsley was Greensboro Senior High School – a time when students competed not for trophies, but for freedom.
“Our kids get to play a football game. Those kids the same age died in battle,” Albright reflected.
He’s referencing the 99 Greensboro Senior students and alumni on the Memorial Room’s Roll of Honor. It denotes neither straight As nor extracurriculars but valor and sacrifice. Each of the names on the list went to war, and not even one came home.
Local veterans’ columnist Harry Thetford heard about the Roll of Honor and couldn’t forget it.
“It just intrigued me that those 99 brave souls went off. Some of them quit school, they didn’t even graduate. Their lives were snuffed out before they even reached the prime,” Thetford said.
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Thetford started to research and write a book, putting a face to each name to resurrect each story from the grave.
“I felt unsure of myself the whole project. But, every now and then, I’d run across somebody with firsthand knowledge, and that was encouraging,” Thetford said.
Among those somebodies was 98-year-old Dr. Edgar Marks.
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“I was in the second or third class here (at Greensboro Senior High School),” Marks said.
Marks’s memory is sharp, and he recalls the day that changed their lives.
“December 7, 1941, I was in a car and hitchhiking from Greensboro to Durham to Duke (University). When we got to Duke, we didn’t have a radio on. The fellows were running around like crazy. And, that’s when I found out there was Pearl Harbor. We went in at that time almost immediately and enlisted,” he explained.
By then, Marks was a medical student at Wake Forest University and awaited his Army assignment. Meanwhile, his childhood best friend, (Hermon) Sigmund Selig Pearl deployed overseas.
“I received a letter from him in March of 1945, which told me what he was doing. He said, ‘Do not tell my parents,’ because his job was to go out into battle and bring in the dead. And, apparently, he was already dead, when I got the letter,” Marks said.
The letter had special instructions,
“He said, ‘You stay there, because I’m gonna need you.’ (I) still cry. (I’m) 98,” Marks said tearfully.
Pearl’s name is now immortalized on the Roll of Honor, a column away from another young classmate, Purnell Kennedy.
“As soon as he knew there was going to be a war, he wanted to be on an airplane,” said Kennedy’s sister-in-law, E.D. Kennedy.
E.D. Kennedy remembers her brother-in-law as a brave navigator, who guided his team back to base when enemy fire hit the aircraft.
“It was a crash landing. Everyone on board was incinerated,” she explained.
E.D. Kennedy said her husband and his parents hardly could bare the loss.
“He (my husband) knew his brother was going to be in Italy as a navigator on a B-24, and he was so excited they would be able to get together for the first time in three years. The next message he got was his brother had been killed,” she said.
For decades, only her memories and a box of letter preserved Purnell Kennedy’s story…until now. And, among the list of heroes on the Roll of Honor is another name with deep roots.
“There’s an Albright on the list. The long Grimsley history with the Albrights is there,” said Ethan Albright.
And, Albright makes sure his athletes never forget their predecessors.
“They enter the field for every game through this room. This room represents families that, when the country had a need, Guilford County Schools and Greensboro seniors stepped up. My brothers and I didn’t fight a war, because they did. My kids are at home and healthy, because somebody else made the sacrifice that needed to be made at that time in our country’s history, and I’m very grateful,” he cried.
Albright is grateful for the people like author Thetford, who vowed always to remember.
“I feel sometimes if I don’t do it, who will?” Thetford asked.
And, he's grateful for survivors like Marks, whose pain preserves honor for generations to come.
“He was my best friend,” reflected Marks, while looking at Pearl's picture on the Memorial Room wall. “I can’t help but cry.”
To read more about the Roll of Honor’s 99 veterans, check out Harry Thetford’s book Remembered. The Pearl Memorial Fieldhouse is not open to the public but is accessible by special request to Guilford County Schools.