Time has finally caught up to a unique group of students from tiny northeast Iowa high school. Some 150 students who attended Fayette Consolidated High School during the World War Two years of 1941 to 1945 started meeting as a group in 1968. After 31 years of reunions –the one they held in early June of this year is expected to be their last.
Eighty-four-year-old Tom McGee, a 1943 graduate, says age has taken its toll and fewer classmates have been able to make the reunions held every two years. While the reunions are ending their stories will live on in a documentary McGhee is putting together. McGee says having five different classes come together like this was a little out of the ordinary.
McGee says they were unusually well bonded as a group out of high school and the bond continues today. He says they were “unusually successful” in their service in the war and their careers afterward. McGee says the group is a microcosm of what Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation.” McGee says their success in life came out of a tough beginning.
“We weren’t really a very lucky generation, we were children during the Great Depression,” McGee says, “all during the depression, we did not have sufficient funds for all the things we would like to do. One of the results of that is we had to look at the basics, we had to decide what it is we were gonna buy, food, clothing, shelter.” He says that caused them to look at the resources they had in a very conservative way.
McGeee says a sense of duty caused them to join up to fight in World War Two. He says many students volunteered before they were 18 after getting their parents permission. McGee graduated high school at 17 and he says many like him joined the service right after graduation. McGee says the war opened up new experiences for the small-town kids.
“A farm boy who probably would never have gone anywhere but to a neighboring farm, or something of that nature, suddenly had been in SanFrancisco or Hawaii, lots of different places in the world,” McGee says. McGee says they were children who went to war and had matured tremendously after seeing the horrors of war. He says that maturity made them take advantage of the G-I bill and they went to college and were serious about it and got on with their lives.
McGee now lives in Ames and is a professor emeritus at Iowa State University. He says several other members of the class went on to great careers after the war, including the late William Andres, the former chairman and C.E.O. of Dayton Hudson Corporation.
He plans to donate a copy of the documentary on the Fayette war years students to the state historical society once it is complete.