Brandon High School alumni (left to right) Donald Gunn (Class of ’48) James Powell and his mother, Helen Mulrennan Young (’42), with past Brandon High principals (right to left) Denny Oest, Jennifer Sparano and Leslie Granich. Current Principal Jeremy Klein sports a bow tie. (Photo credit: Linda Chion.)

Fourteen Brandon High School graduates have been immortalized in a war memorial at their alma mater, in tribute to their ultimate sacrifice on battlefields far from home.

Nine of ‘the 14 fallen’ soldiers recognized at the memorial dedication ceremony on November 2 fought in World War II. Four of the soldiers fought in Vietnam, 1965-70. The youngest of the 14 honorees, Richard Batson, 18, graduated in 1943 and died in the September 1944 invasion of the island of Peleliu.

The oldest of the 14 slain soldiers, Kevin Smith, 28, graduated in 1995 and died on December 8, 2005, leading a convoy of vehicles near the Tigris River to repair an electric tower in Baghdad. He is the sole soldier to be recognized for service in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the only soldier to have attended Brandon High on Victoria Street, which opened in 1972. The original Brandon school, built in 1914, is where McLane Middle School operates today. It’s slated to close at the end of the school year.

Brandon High graduate Lt. Col. Donald Gunn (Class of ’86), a 24-year U.S. Army veteran and the school’s senior U.S. Army JROTC instructor, researched for seven years the fallen soldiers’ backgrounds, which he read in part in the school auditorium. Gunn fought in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. His father, Donald Gunn (’48), sat in the first row next to centenarian Helen Mulrennan Young (’42).

As the younger Gunn noted, “they are among our last links to our World War II casualties, remembering them as students before they left for the war.”

Also at the dedication ceremony were Brandon band and JROTC participants, students and alumni, as well as Principal Jeremy Klein and three of his predecessors, Denny Oest, Leslie Granich and Jennifer Sparano. The younger Gunn said past Principal Orlan Briant sent his regards and that the memorial in its planning stages “would have never gotten off the ground without [Sparano’s] support.”

Also in the auditorium were family and friends of many of the fallen soldiers, whose names are etched in bronze on the white memorial wall. Also posted are a large-scale bronze eagle (the school’s mascot) and a 1960 bronze plaque taken from the 1914 Brandon school, now McLane. It reads in part, “As the eagle soars to greatness, near its wings we fly.”

Recognized World War II soldiers include Grant Chadwell (’35), who died at age 26 in 1943; Ronald Morris (’38), age 22, 1942; Ray Simmons (’39), age 23, 1945; George Dukes (’40), age 22, 1944; Charles Ragsdale (’42), age 19, 1943; Bert Sauls (’42), age 19, 1943; Donald Trout (’43), age 20, 1945; and Darrell Whidden (’43), age 19, 1945.

Honored for paying the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam are 21-year-olds Daniel Abney (’65), who died in 1969; Thomas Harris (’66), in 1968; and Roger Langford (’66), in 1969. Charles Anthony Connell (’68) died in 1970 at age 19.

Chadwell Supply, which built the memorial wall and attached sidewalks, and assisted in the installation of the large, bronze eagle, was a major memorial contributor, along with Brandon Elks Lodge #2383. Additional funding came from the Brandon High Alumni Association, the Brandon High Army JROTC Battalion, the Hillsborough County Veterans Council and the Marine Corps League.

Visit Brandon High at 1101 Victoria St. in Brandon and online at Call 813-744-8120.

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