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Classmates recall best and worst of times at 66th reunion

September 25, 2006|by ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN - Joe Ecker and Mary Black Stains graduated from Hagerstown High School in 1940. Both served on the high school reunion committee for years, but they met only a few years ago when he went to her house to fix her computer.

Three years ago, they married.

"She said, 'Who would have an old lady?' I said, 'An old man,'" Ecker said as he retold the story of their engagement. "At age 81, we joined together."

On Sunday, the two joined dozens of classmates at their 66th high school reunion at the Hagerstown Elks Lodge on Robinwood Drive.

Charles Smith, who traveled from New Jersey to visit his classmates this weekend, was in Hagerstown on Dec. 7, 1941.

He had just graduated from the Army Air Corps mechanics school and was resting at home when he heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. He received a telegram telling him to "immediately" report to Orlando, Fla., where he worked in the flight line.

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Later in the war, Smith was transferred to Casablanca, Morocco, and to Washington, D.C., where he flew for U.S. senators and Gen. George C. Marshall.

"Most of us were in the service," Smith said as he looked around the room at his classmates.

Nine members of the class of 1940 died in World War II, and 23 were missing and considered deceased, according to information compiled by Ecker.

Ralph Baker served as a medic for the Army during the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944-45.

"I was in the front lines in 1944 when Germany broke through," he said.

He was the only one of nine siblings to graduate from high school and the only one of six sons to return from the war, he said.

"I was born during the Depression. Things were pretty bad in those days ... almost everybody had to work to support the family," he said.

Baker also remembers the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

"We were teenagers riding around in a car on Sunday afternoon," he said.

After the news came he was, "excited like everybody else," Baker said.

"I'm one of the lucky ones," he said. "I feel very fortunate surviving the war and getting home."

Jane Stickell Cochran studied fashion design after she graduated from Hagerstown High School. She thought she would pursue a career in fashion, but the war changed her plans.

"I wanted to design, but I didn't really get to because I got married," she said.

She dated her husband, Edward, all through high school and college. They graduated together in 1940. When he was in his junior year at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he left school to attend Officer Candidate School.

After he graduated from OCS, Edward Cochran called Jane and asked if they could get married soon, before he went overseas. That was 1944.

"He proposed on a Monday. We got married that Saturday," she said.

Their first child was born after the war, while they were living in Massachusetts so Edward could finish his MIT degree, she said.

Ecker was on the front lines of the major technological revolution of the 20th century.

Thirty years ago, he started studying computer technology, "back in the days when only big outfits could afford a computer," he said.

He worked on classified assignments for the Department of Defense at Fort Ritchie for 15 years before arthritis forced him to retire.

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