"You had to die to make it here."
Bloom Archivist Don Croarkin may have smiled when he said them, but the words carried an overwhelming weight.
Inside 's Dr. James D. Steckel Library, along the south wall near the , there are several photos and newspaper clippings, mostly from the Chicago Heights Star (now enveloped into the Southtown Star).
The clippings are behind pieces of glass under a large title in all caps, "HONOR & GLORY TO OUR HEROES," followed by "They Gave Their Lives Serving Our Country." There are four categories separating the clippings: World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
"Thank God we don't have any from Iraq," said Croarkin.
All of the people being praised and described in the clippings are dead. They all served in the military. They all played a role in serving the United States during wartime. On top of that, they were all Bloom alumni.
Some of the description were short and minimalist:
Funeral arrangements are incomplete for Private Scott E. Wise, a 1968 graduate of Bloom High School, who died Vietnam, Tuesday.
But others were longer, paying tribute to soldiers like Joseph Bajorims Jr., who was credited for being unfortunate first in World War II:
Joseph Bajorims Jr., son of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Bajorims 309 East Fourteenth Street was the first Chicago Heights service man to be killed in action. He died December 7, 1941, in the Jap(an) attack on Pearl Harbor. Since that time, more than 100 of Seaman Bajorims' comrades from the area have joined him in death in the many fields of battle against the Axis. He was 22 years old.
Not all of the honorees were killed in combat. Helen G. Sage was an Army nurse, whose young life came to an end right here in the States during World War I:
Chicago Heights has given another citizens in the cause of humanity. The latest name to be placed upon the roll of honor is that of Miss Helen G. Sage, a trained nurse, who died at Camp Taylor, Kentucky, last Saturday, of lobar pneumonia, resulting from an attack of Spanish influenza. Miss Sage was doing hospital work at the camp when stricken with the fatal disease. She was 36 years of age.
Regardless of the causes of death, all of the names and faces on that wall had walked the halls of Bloom and served their country.
Framing the clippings were several service flags, donated to the school by the Catholic War Veterans Chicago Heights Memorial Post 1060.
The display itself was set up with donations and support from retired Chicago Heights Police Chief Charles Nardoni, who is also a World War II veteran. Nardoni is a Bloom alum and served on the District 206 School Board until earlier this month.
While I was in the library, I noticed a cluster of tables at which several Bloom students were rifling through helmets, toiletries and uniforms from World War II. The students were sifting though books and newspaper articles, looking for information as two adults circulated the room answering questions.
The adults were U.S. history teachers Mick Gaughan and Lauren McSweeney, who just so happened to be teaching their students about the deceased soldiers that graduated from Bloom.
"We ask them to check out the wall of the sacrificed Bloom students," McSweeney said. "They get a better sense of what it was like to be a soldier."
Coupled with seeing fallen soldiers that went to their school, the students got to hold actual items from the second World War.
"We have them examining a bunch of World War II memorabilia and artifacts," Gaughan explained. "It's a way for them to use some of the tools of history."
The teachers said they obtained the artifacts with a grant from the school board, as well as from the Bloom Archives.
For the students, World War II has been another leg of their ongoing trip through the history of our country.
"When we started last week, we focused on the Great Depression and World War I," said Matthew Brown, who is a junior. "It's interesting. We found out a former substitute teacher's father served in World War II."
On my way out of the library, I took another look at the wall. It covers more than 50 years of history and is populated with the faces of several generations. There are rubbings from the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. There are engraved plaques. And if an alum visits the school and tells Don Croarkin his or her relative is missing, a new face will be added.
The wall is a piece of history, shrouded in honor and tragedy.