The city of London, Ohio, in the early 1970s was an enclave of tranquility amid the turbulent sea of American despair. Isolated from the protests and riots revolving around Vietnam, our eternal summer rituals continued unaffected. Umpires called balls and strikes at Little League games. The public pool drenched us in chlorine water as the music of Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Three Dog Night, and the Grass Roots blared from a jukebox.
In a word, all was “normal”—except the bell. It was the sole link between our haven and the upheaval across the country: Our bronzed reality, as large as the Liberty Bell. It initially resided atop the old Central School building. Later the bell was moved to a more accessible—and worthier—location in front of the high school, compliments of the classes of 1945 and 1971. Mounted atop a brick pedestal, the bell forms part of the memorial to boys from London High School who died in American wars, starting with World War I. Here are some more of the most touching ways people have paid tribute to veterans.
The focal point of the monument, affixed to the pedestal, is a bronze plaque that lists each conflict, followed by the names of the men it claimed. The names are familiar: Mabe, McSavaney, Turvy, Cunningham, and Speasmaker. We know their relatives and their family stories. They represent London, past, present, and forever. Thirty-five names in total. Years and weather have tarnished the plaque, draining most of the names of their physical luster. But even nature cannot diminish their sacrifice and our loss.
When I was a kid, the bell mystified me. I studied the names while I waited for the traffic light at the corner of First and Oak Streets, especially the ones on the far-right side of the monument. They still shone then. They were recent additions, members of my church or kids who drag-raced toward South Charleston every Friday night. These boys died in Vietnam, and their bright names struck painfully close, especially to my mother. I was only ten, but my sister was the same age as these soldiers. My mother knew their mothers, and she grieved with them.
She made casseroles for their families, tears mixing with the ingredients. In their living rooms, she held the hands of other local ladies, part of a mothers’ union. I knew when she left the house with a Pyrex dish, emotion-choked beyond speaking, that another shiny name would soon appear on the bell.
And the cycle continues. Each generation takes its turn with casseroles and mournful mothers’ gatherings, each loss just as devastating as the ones preceding it. Before our neighbors were names in bronze, they were mechanics, athletes, altar boys, Boy Scouts, and aspiring leaders. They were husbands and sweethearts whose love was lost too soon. They were smiles, hugs, and laughter. All were London boys whose song was only partially sung.
But their passing has noble significance beyond the memories they left behind. Along with serving, they all supported our way of life, enabling our carefree barbecues and Little League games, as well as our rallies and protests. Our rights and freedoms, purchased with the sacrifice of 35 Londonians, are their legacy. This is a heavy tariff levied on a small town of 10,000 people.
Today, the memorial in the school yard stands as a shrine to a small farming town, its people, and their collective loss. It is a tribute to devotion and determination. A monument repeated in hundreds of towns across Ohio and thousands of cities throughout America.
In my hometown, there is a bell, silently tolling. Its inaudible chiming echoes an eternal reminder and a premonition. Most of the names have tarnished with age, but there are two that shine, the names of soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. I fought in Afghanistan as well, but I returned to London, allowing me to memorialize my neighbors in words instead of joining them as an inscribed name. Poignantly, there remains room for future shiny additions should the fates demand them.
This is what the troops want everyone to know about their lives.