Will Broaddus Staff writer
The Salem News
---- — PEABODY — The Peabody High School Class of 1942 held its 70th and final reunion yesterday at the Torigian Center on Central Street.
The classmates love getting together, and have been doing so almost yearly since 2002, when Mary Franggos (formerly Maihos), Ray MacNeil and Florence Piccola (formerly Staniszewski) took over the job of organizing the events.
“The older we get, the more people want to get together,” Franggos said.
They included Anthony Koutzoukis, who was awarded a Bronze Star while serving with the 422nd Infantry Regiment during WWII. He led a machine gun squad and, after landing in Normandy 19 days after D-Day, fought until the end of the war.
Koutzoukis, who later served as deputy fire chief in Peabody, volunteered for duty in the Ardennes Forest during the Battle of the Bulge, to reinforce a division that had suffered extensive casualties.
“I liked the action,” Koutzoukis said. “When you’re young, you’re looking for the action.”
Not only the U.S. Army but the French government recognized his bravery, thanking Koutzoukis for helping to liberate their country by awarding him a Legion of Honor in 2006.
Most of the men at the reunion — and one woman, Virginia (formerly Warren) Cleary, who served in the Coast Guard— were in uniform during the war.
They included Steven Themes, 88, who played varsity football, baseball and basketball at Peabody High School, and was trained as a medic in the Navy.
He served on the U.S.S. Nevada, at one point for 30 straight months. It was a ship that had survived Pearl Harbor and was later to endure a suicide attack by a Japanese plane.
The ship used its 14-inch guns at four major invasions, including D-Day, Okinawa, and Iwo Jima, where Themes treated wounded soldiers before sending them to hospital ships farther out to sea.
Themes later worked for the Postal Service in Peabody for 41 years, and has always loved attending his class reunions.
“We can’t miss one of these,” he said.
Franggos did her part during the war by working at Sylvania in quality control, assembling special products, the true nature of which were kept secret even from the people who put them together.
“I was proud to be part of that,” she said.
But the Class of 1942 has been dwindling lately, with just around 20 members showing up yesterday from an original class of more than 200.
It is also getting harder to reach and keep track of people, and more and more classmates have health issues that make it stressful to attend.
Ray MacNeil, for instance, recently suffered penumonia, and just got out of the hospital this past Monday.
“It’s difficult to get people together,” Franggos said.
So after reading five or six letters from distant classmates who couldn’t make it to the lunch, and acknowledging those who had passed away since their last reunion, Franggos put it to a vote.
She asked the room if it would be OK to close the class account, and donate the money to the Peabody Council on Aging, which has been so helpful in providing a meeting place and delicious meals for the group’s events.
Everyone in attendance thought that was a good idea, but also agreed that it would not be the last time they would meet.
“We’ll just meet on a social basis,” Franggos said.