Weekly Feature

2018-10-11 / Local News

Cleve Hill honors veterans, alumni with Patriot Wall


Veteran walls are more popular in schools in southern states, according to Wayne Weiser, a retired head custodian of the Cleveland Hill.

After more than a year of research and outreach by district members, Cleveland Hill schools honored fellow Eagles last week with the dedication of its own Patriot Wall.

Weiser and other school community members went through a slew of databases and historical sites to help the district “leave no man behind.”

At the dedication of the Patriot Wall in Cleveland Hill’s “Main Street,” which connects the three schools, Weiser said the goal of the project was to recognize veterans who passed through the same hallways.

Board President Robert Polino said he thinks people in the area don’t always understand the gravity of the sacrifice military personnel and their families make.

“Dedicating this memorial here, today, will allow us and our students to take a real interest in the dedication and what it means to serve this country,” Polino said. “I can’t think of anything more honorable than for our young men and women to serve our country.”

Veterans who qualify for the Patriot Wall include graduates of Cleveland Hill High School, students who left the school to serve and staff or faculty members who worked in the district for at least 10 years, according to Polino.

The words, “America: Land of the free, because of the brave,” are affixed to the Main Street wall above the two plaques that honor two veterans from the school who sacrificed their lives.

One plaque was dedicated to Pfc. Richard DeWane of the Marine Corps, who graduated from Cleveland Hill in 1965. DeWane sacrificed his life while serving in Vietnam.

The second plaque was dedicated to Nicholas Warden, who served in the special operations forces under hostile conditions in the Middle East and with the French Foreign Legion. He also served with the resistance group in Syria, supporting the War on Terror Campaign.

“‘On the battlefield, the military pledges to leave no soldier behind, let it be our pledge that when they return home, we leave no veteran behind,’” Weiser said at the dedication, quoting an Illinois congressman. “That’s exactly what we’re trying to do here. We’re recognizing the men and women who put on the uniform to serve their nation, to protect their communities, states and country.”

Seven medallions have been affixed under the sign for the wall and depict military departments — U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Army National Guard and Air National Guard. All federal military reserves will also be honored, as well, according to Superintendent Jon Mac- Swan.

Weiser approached Congressman Chris Collins’ office to obtain broader information databases but was later turned away because Collins’ office said the project was too complex.

Weiser, who retired July 2017 after working 34 years in the school district, continued his research. He consulted over 25 websites, cemeteries and archives searching for veterans who were a part of the Cleveland Hill community.

As of Oct. 2, Weiser noted that there are a total of 31 veterans who will be honored with a 4-inch silhouette of a copper and green eagle head. Each silhouette will have the veteran’s name, graduation year and branch of the military.

Weiser is a retired senior master sergeant who served in the Navy, reserves and International Guard for 25 years. He said he’ll also receive an eagle head on the Patriot Wall.

“I had a significant emotional experience while researching,” Weiser said. “It was like turning a light on in a dark room. It just made me stop and say, ‘Wow.’ Even now I get emotional thinking about how short some of these people’s lives were. … The more I got into it, the more emotional it got.”

MacSwan said the research and work put into the project was done internally by many people, alongside Weiser.

“This was something [the board] wanted to do to recognize all those who have served,” MacSwan said. “A lot of communication was with leaders of alumni groups and organizations connected to Cleveland Hill to chase leads to make sure we have everybody.”

He added that alumni have responded through mail, email and posting on the district’s website.

“We’ve been surprised, pleasantly surprised, at the quick response and turnaround from a number of alumni and previous employees,” he said.

The Patriot Wall will be a living memorial, according to Weiser.

“We’re going to have generations of students come through these hallways and they’re going to look and see their grandfather, grandmother, brother, sister, uncle, aunt or best friend,” Weiser said.

He later thanked Polino, other board members and administration and MacSwan for their work and support.

“Without the support of the alumni and individuals of administration, it wouldn’t have gone as fast as it did,” Weiser said. “I’m proud to say Cleveland Hill is one of the few schools in the area that has a veteran wall.”

MacSwan said he hopes to have the eagle heads secured to the wall within the next two weeks.

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