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San Marcos High School students pay tribute to veterans

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San Marcos High School theatre students breathed life into 13 veterans buried in the city’s cemetery Saturday during an educational walk through the site.

Traci Tucker, San Marcos High School drama student, re-enacts the life and death of an American war veteran at the “If The Dead Could Talk” cemetary walk, hosted by The Heritage Association of San Marcos.

The event, sponsored by Friends of the San Marcos Cemetery and the Heritage Association, will benefit improvements to the city cemetery’s outdoor carpenter Gothic chapel.

The military veterans recognized by the first “If The Dead Could Talk” event were born in two different countries, spanning three centuries, and fought in seven different wars by land, sea and air.

Some died in the line of duty, while others returned or moved to San Marcos and served as government employees, educators and doctors. These veterans are forever connected through their service in the U.S. military, as well as in their final resting place – the San Marcos City Cemetery.

Among the oak trees and off the dusty paths of the historic cemetery lies U.S. Army veteran Thomas P. Yoakum, who was among the soldiers that liberated Nordhausen Concentration Camp during WWII. The sub-camp was created by the S.S. for prisoners considered too weak or ill to work in the larger Mittelbau-Dora camp.  

“I was considered to be an old man by my friends. In fact, they call me ‘Pappy,’” said Traci Tucker, San Marcos High School student, evoking Yoakum through monologue. “Our division was recognized as a liberating element of the Nordhausen Concentration Camp. The city of Nordhausen will remain forever in the memories of the 3rd Armored Division soldiers as a place of horror. The stench of decomposing bodies and the sight of live human beings starved to a placid skeleton…”

Tucker said Yoakum twice refused the Bronze Star Medal, awarded by the U.S. Armed Forces for acts of heroism, merit or service in combat. He later became a San Marcos High School civics teacher.

More than 100 years prior, Louis Lawshe, born in Pennsylvania, served as second lieutenant in the War of 1812, the second military conflict between the U.S. and Great Britain. Lawshe also served in the Seminole and Florida Indian Wars, where he was promoted to captain in 1817.

“I began to think that my years of military service were behind me, but alas, this was not meant to be,” said San Marcos High School student Evan Valenta in his portrayal of Lawshe. “For in the midst of the Civil War, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant invaded my hometown of Water Valley and set fire to my family estate. It was perhaps the single most devastating event in my life.”

Valenta said Lawshe knew then what he must do.

At 75 years old, Lawshe served in the Second Battle of Manassas, or the second “Bull Run,” during the U.S. Civil War. He moved to San Marcos after the war.

Just feet away from Lawshe’s grave lies Ann Pearce Munson Caldwell, whose death predates the founding of the 45-acre San Marcos City Cemetery. Both Caldwell’s first and second husbands were Spanish-American War veterans.

The walk also featured the lives of three British Royal Air Force pilots killed in 1952 and 1953 while training near San Marcos, as well as Emmie Craddock, first female city mayor and Southwest Texas State University history professor.

Amber DeLeon, San Marcos High School student, relayed a brief history of Craddock, who was a member of the WWII U.S. Navy division Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (W.A.V.E.S.).

“At the end of the war, women would not be allowed to continue Navy careers,” DeLeon said.

Despite the odds, Craddock achieved the rank of commander and hosted a radio show on the Armed Forces network. She later founded the Greater San Marcos Economic Development and Corridor Council, city food bank and river foundation, as well as the university’s honors program.

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