By Mark Heeter and Lindsey Cole, USAG Schweinfurt Public AffairsJune 17, 2008
SCHWEINFURT, Germany - After five decades of serving the children of U.S. servicemembers and civilian employees, the Wuerzburg American Elementary, Middle and High Schools closed June 6.
"Closing these schools will not take away the memories or connection to each other," said Debbie Strong, elementary school principal, addressing the crowd of students, staff, friends and alumni who reached back into the 1960s.
Mike Thompson, superintendent of Department of Defense Dependent Schools-Bavaria, also recognized the uniqueness of the Wuerzburg students who just completed the school year, bringing an end to more than 50 years of a U.S school presence in the community
"Your effort, unity and working together have been very positive," said Thompson, who listed off the school closures he has seen in 18 years in Germany, paralleling a dwindling U.S. military population overseas.
Diane Ohman, DoDDS-Europe director, amplified Thompson's remarks, referring to the 40 schools that have closed during her tenure and enrollment numbers that have dropped.
"The intensity, feeling and emotions that go along with closing 40 schools are pretty intense," she said.
Wuerzburg students and schools have always been critical components in theater-wide events and programs, from honors band to the academic contests, Ohman said.
"I am here to tell you that, through the years, Wuerzburg has always been well-represented," she said.
"These schools have turned out some our nation's best and brightest. And like most people, these children of yesterday and today continue to look back on their junior and senior high school days as some of the best times of their lives," said Lt. Col. Anthony Haager, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Schweinfurt.
Referring to milestones and events from 1954 - the year Wuerzburg American High School opened - Haager drew similarities to students in 2008.
"Our military children still love a good song and a good book. And those children continue to receive the same quality and excellent education that they did back then," he said.
Following the retirement of the flags that flew over both schools, the elementary and middle school choruses led the crowd through "Forever Friends."
Then, in a final act, the members of the Wuerzburg schools' family released a rainbow of balloons over the sky in a city that meant so much to so many students over the past 54 years.
Such closures are often a chance for remembrance. Accordingly, four Wuerzburg American High School alumni from the classes of 1967-1969 attended the graduation and closing ceremonies.
Bill Suzuki, brothers Michael and Henry Chiasson, and Jackie Hall all attended WAHS when the school was relatively new.
During that time era, they agreed, Leighton Barracks looked very different. There were no fences around the post and people from the economy could walk in and out as they pleased.
"Being in Wuerzburg was the best time of my life, Henry said. "It was a rich cultural experience that we didn't appreciate as much as we should have. But it created an experience for us, and we just can't let go of it."
Both Michael and Henry live in Florida and they came back specifically for the graduation and closing ceremony.
Before a Wuerzburg alumni Website was created, the only way previous graduates could stay in contact was by mail, and some didn't stay in contact at all.
"If it weren't for Bob Manwaring (of the Wuerzburg alumni association) and the internet, we never would've gotten together," Michael said.
Now past graduates have the opportunity to reestablish contact with one another - even though their school now belongs to the past.