East High School class of 1966 honors its Vietnam fallen at 50th high school reunion

Written by Communications Intern Sophie Ota

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(L to R) Johnie Barber, Roy McDaniel, Larry Claspill, Larry Moulder were four graduates of East High School in Kansas City, Missouri who fell during the Vietnam War

 

Decades after graduating East High School in Kansas City, Missouri, Glenda Kelly and Lavonna Peterson hadn’t forgotten the classmates they lost in the Vietnam War. Their 50th high school reunion, held this past July, was the perfect opportunity to honor their fallen friends.

Kelly, head of East High class of 1966’s reunion committee, says she initially did not expect to be involved with the get-together.

“About last March, I got a phone call from an old classmate. To my surprise, they were trying to talk me into doing the 50th reunion,” Peterson explains. “So I started doing most of the things by myself. Then I sent a mass email out, asking, is there anyone who wants to come and help stuff envelopes?”

Eight or nine people came to assist Peterson. Her friend, Glenda Kelly, was one of them.

“I knew we had lost members of our class in the war, and I just had the idea that it would be nice to honor [those] who served this way,” Glenda explains. “I did some research about VVMF, and then proposed the idea to the reunion committee. I have always felt sad and bothered by the way the society treated the soldiers when they returned from the war.”

That’s when Kelly and Peterson decided to set up a table at the reunion dedicated to remembering their fallen classmates, complete with a poster and photos of their classmates.

“I put the boys’ names and their pictures on the poster. People could bring donations to the reunion, but a lot of people decided to donate at the reunion,” Peterson says. Money raised would be donated to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

Four East High students who died in the war were in the same year as Peterson and Kelly. John Barber, Roy McDaniel, Larry Claspill, and Larry Moulder were all members of the class of 1966. Additionally, at least three other East High students from different years were killed in Vietnam.

Both Kelly and Peterson were friends with the fallen students.

“They were great guys,” Peterson says. “John Barber was engaged to one of my best friends. Roy was one of the best athletes. I knew John and Roy, they were very close friends. And Larry Claspill and Larry Moulder, I knew very well.”

“I knew two of the boys better than the other classmates we lost,” Kelly remembers. “I had actually dated one of the boys, so there was sadness.”

The war disrupted daily life at East High. Every time a classmate was drafted, students “would get very sad.” An estimated 70 classmates entered the service before or after they graduated.

 

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East High School’s Class of 1966 at their 50 Year Reunion (Photo/Glenda Kelly)

“It wasn’t that we were scared when they entered the service, but when we would get a notification that they were missing in action, there would be this overwhelming sense of sadness,” says Peterson, who also lost a cousin to the war. “It’s kind of like losing a relative. We were a close-knit class.”

“I became more aware [of the war] as friends began to be drafted,” says Kelly. “The draft policy at the time to not draft young men in college made an impact. There was also a policy to not draft married men—this influenced some marriages that probably should not have happened.”

With more than 80 former classmates in attendance, the friends say honoring their classmates was a success. Besides their fundraising efforts, a moment of silence was held in honor of the classmates that had passed. Additionally, about 20 of the reunion’s attendees were Vietnam veterans themselves.

The two reiterated the importance of never forgetting the fallen.

“Never forget,” says Kelly. “Educate the young about how society and the media treated those who served. We should always respect and honor those who serve and protect our country.”

Peterson agrees.

“Whether it’s a war you believe in or don’t believe in, these Vietnam boys have a special place in our hearts.”

 

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