Watertown High School Strives to Bring Attention to Faded Banner Honoring WWI Veterans

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Charlie Breitrose

The 100 year old Service Banner, left, is from the World War I era, but many questions about it remain, including what the numbers represent. The new banner has a gold star for those who did while serving, silver for those wounded and blue for those who served.

Charlie Breitrose

The new Watertown High School Service Banner, honoring those serving or who have served in the military, was unveiled during the school’s Memorial Day Ceremony. Watching are some of Watertown’s veterans who attended the ceremony.

Hidden in plain sight at Watertown High School is a banner dating back 100 years, made to honor the town residents who went to serve in World War I, as well as, those who died in the “War to End All Wars.”

The banner is located in a glass case, not far from the top of the central staircase on the second floor of the high school. It caught the interest of Kraig Gustafson, the AP U.S. History teacher and the district’s grade 6-12 Social Studies Coordinator. He also wanted to do something to honor others who served in the military at that time and since then.

Once bordered with bright red with a white center and hundreds of stars some of which form the letters W-H-S, the banner now appears in different shades of gray. There are also larger stars, a blue one for service members, and also a gold star, representing those killed in the war. Two numbers also adorn the banner, 210 and 4.

Similar banners were common during World War I, and Gustafson believes the banner was made around that time, but there are still some mysteries about the banner.

“On Friday, April 19th, 1918, the Church of Sacred Heart gave a service flag with 132 stars to the Town. On Friday. November 7th, 1919, the Women’s Relief Corps gave a service flag to Watertown (American Legion) Post 99,” Gustafson said in his address to the school during the Memorial Day Ceremony. “Our banner is consistent with others in town, but who made ours? Are the stars that make out W-H-S decorative, or do they represent actual service members?”

It is also clear that some stars were removed so that the larger blue and gold ones could be put on. Either way, the number of stars do not match up with the 210 on the blue service star, Gustafson said.

Charlie Breitrose

The 100 year old Service Banner, left, is from the World War I era, but many questions about it remain, including what the numbers represent. The new banner has a gold star for those who did while serving, silver for those wounded and blue for those who served. It will hang in the WHS library.

To answer some of these questions, Gustafson handed the task to some of his students.

“I sent the kids to research the banner,” Gustafson said. “I told them it may be an impossible task.”

The first group of students was Daniel Shin, Arsen Patvakanian and Conor Crowley, in the Class of 2014, and the later Gabe Pino and James DeRocher, from the Class of 2017. They took on the research during their sophomore AP U.S. History classes.

The students combed through hundreds of newspaper articles, looked through old WHS yearbooks, read through copies of the high school newspaper (then called The Bulletin), and read through journals from the time created by the Women’s Relief Corps. They also contacted agencies: the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution), the American Legion and went to the old high school — now the Brigham House.

“By doing research they found out a lot, but couldn’t find out who made it and when it was made,” Gustafson said.

The numbers on the banner do not match up with the records in Town Hall, Gustason and it is not clear if the numbers represent servicemen from Watertown High School, the entire Town, or something else.

The banner appears to be in fragile condition, so Gustafson does not want to open the case or move it. While looking closer at the case, students found a piece of paper stuffed in a gap. They removed it and found that it was a tardy pass given to a student named Albert Marrocco in 1944. The students tracked down relatives of Marrocco, who is now deceased.

Gustafson wanted to include a plaque to explain the banner so that people no longer just walk by without a thought.

“It was, and is, my desire to preserve and protect our old service flag,” Gustafson said. “I thought that we could create a replica that would show the banner as it was 100 years ago, but unless we could display numbers that we were certain of, we’d be misrepresenting the truth.

“Even if we knew accurate numbers for today, those numbers would, unfortunately, change in the years ahead.”

Charlie Breitrose

The old Service Banner is in need of restoration and repair. Picture here, one corner of the faded cloth has torn. WHS history teacher Kraig Gustafson hopes to raise money to restore the World War I era banner.

A new banner was created, and unveiled during the WHS Memorial Day Ceremony on the Friday before Memorial Day. This banner is red and white with three stars — blue for service, silver for those wounded, and gold for those who died. There are no numbers, and on the bottom it reads, simply, “Watertown High School.”

The banner was made by Watertown-based New England Flag and Banner, and the seed funds for the banner were provided by WHS senior Jeremy Ornstein, from money he won in an essay contest.

The new banner will hang in the WHS library, Gustafson said. As for the old one, he would like to restore it. That process, however, is an expensive one.

“Just to have someone come look at it costs $750 — not even start restoring it,” said Gustafson, who added that he plans to do some fund raising, and look for sponsorship from local groups and corporations to pay for restoration of the century-old banner.

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