New housing developments creep closer and closer to the Cleveland Memorial Forest on the east side of the Sammamish Plateau halfway between Issaquah and Fall City. A new school sits a home run away from the fence that encircles the second-growth preserve.
Yet when Cleveland High School’s graduating classes of 1943 and ’44 paid $500 for the 131-acre forest, it was miles from civilization. The students wanted to create an outdoor monument to alumni of the Seattle school killed in World War II.
Today, bronze plaques on a giant boulder, called Commemorative Rock, list Cleveland High students killed in that war and the Korean and Vietnam wars. Friday, another marker will be added to honor veterans: a flagpole.
The 58-year-old sylvan tribute to fallen soldiers and sailors never had a way to fly the U.S. flag, but some alumni and their families have fixed that. Don Case, Gordon Parker, and Pat Coluccio, along with grandchildren of another alumnus, recently installed a commemorative flagpole. A dedication ceremony will be at 11 a.m. Friday. The celebration coincides with Cleveland High’s 75th anniversary.
Memorial flagpole dedication
Cleveland Memorial Forest, 11 a.m. Friday; guided walks to Commemorative Rock, 10 a.m. and noon. Directions: Interstate 90 east to Issaquah, take Exit 17, turn left at end of ramp onto East Lake Sammamish Parkway (Front Street). Turn right at second light onto Issaquah-Fall City Road, remain on road for about four miles. Cleveland Memorial Forest will be on the left side of the road.
World War II casualties inspired the original purchase. Patriotic fervor, ignited by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, inspired the flagpole acquisition and installation.
It began last fall with a meeting of the oversight committee responsible for the memorial. The group meets regularly in the forest, accompanied by the background sounds of wind in the trees and birdsong.
In the group are three Cleveland High alumni, representatives from the city of Seattle, King County Parks Department, the Land Conservancy of Seattle and King County, students from Cleveland and Garfield high schools, school-board members and an ecologist.
“After 9-11, someone looked around and commented on the lack of a flagpole,” said Case, of the 1948 graduating class. The Auburn resident and organizer of the project, recruited Parker and Coluccio, both from the class of 1947.
Case talked to the extended family of Jim Rohletter, a Cleveland High graduate, veteran and World War II prisoner of war. The family donated $1,000 to buy the flagpole and a commemorative plaque.
Rohletter’s adult grandchildren provided the muscle power to install the flagpole.
Grandsons Tom Jenner of Seattle, Dave Miethe of Shoreline, Ken Jenner of Snohomish and grandson-in-law Brian Smith of Everett dug the 3-foot hole, mixed and poured a concrete base and helped the alumni raise the 25-foot aluminum pole into place.
Getting the flag was the easy part. “We bought one that flew over the U.S. Capitol,” Case said.
More time-consuming was the months it took getting permission from the Seattle School Board, the school maintenance department and the oversight committee to install the pole.
The forest rarely is open to the public because it’s considered a private memorial and a unique classroom, not a park. The Seattle School District uses the preserve, estimated to be worth $15 million, for ecology and wilderness-survival programs.
At Friday’s ceremony, the plaque memorializing Rohletter also will be unveiled. He was a guard on Cleveland’s 1937 Metro League championship football team coached by John Cherberg. Cherberg went on to coach football at the University of Washington and then was elected lieutenant governor.
“We all grew up hearing our grandfather’s stories about the football team,” said granddaughter Jamie Curtismith of Everett. “He graduated from Cleveland in 1939 and joined the Navy in 1940. His ship, the USS Pope, was sunk in the Philippines in 1942, and he was a prisoner of war.”
Curtismith said Rohletter didn’t talk about his POW days, but the experience devastated his health, particularly in later years. He died in 1980.
“This plaque and flagpole aren’t just about my grandfather,” she said. “It is also to honor his football teammates, coach John Cherberg and all Cleveland POWs.”
Case said at least six Cleveland graduates were POWs during World War II. The two surviving POWs, Tony Ferruci and Louie Pavone plan to be at Friday’s ceremony.
To understand how important the 1937 city championship was, Case said, people, need to know that Cleveland had been the eternal athletic underdogs.
It is also appropriate, said organizers, as a way to start the Memorial Day weekend.
“Flying our country’s flag from this pole will not only honor Jim, but it will also honor all veterans from Cleveland High School,” Case said.
By Sherry Grindeland – Seattle Times Eastside bureau