Remembering the Memorial Stadium Rededication
October 4, 2019, was a very special day for El Reno.
On that date, we welcomed over 200 relatives of the “El Reno 44” to our town--the 44 former El Reno Public Schools students who served in World War 2 and gave their lives either during or as a result of their military service. They were here to help us honor their relatives, the very men who were the reason why Memorial Stadium was so named when it was first built and dedicated back in 1949. The event meant so much to these families that they came from literally across the United States. Many came from California, while others came from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa, and of course Oklahoma. They were welcomed by special luncheon at noon on October 4th, with Sid’s Diner providing the fried onion burgers and coneys to treat our visitors to some authentic El Reno food.
EHS teacher Brian Rukes spearheaded the entire project, learning in January 2018 through research his students were doing in his “Biographies of El Reno High School” project why Memorial Stadium was so named. Most people had no idea why the stadium was called that, though. Mr. Rukes and his students set out to change that, researching the men and writing their biographies. They also started planning this special event, the Memorial Stadium Rededication, with two key components--the unveiling of a new granite monument and a special tribute flyover by a World War 2 vintage B-17 bomber, named “Texas Raiders” of the Gulf Coast Wing of the Commemorative Air Force.
The efforts of Mr. Rukes and his students gained extensive media attention. In addition to the El Reno Tribune newspaper running many articles about the project--and publishing student-written biographies to honor these men--the OKC television media also become involved. News 9 aired a multi-part detailed series about the project, Channel 5 covered the project and interviewed Mr. Rukes live in-studio, KOKH Fox 25 provided additional coverage, and OETA did a special segment on the rededication itself on “ONR” (the Oklahoma News Report) on that PBS station.
The Memorial Stadium Rededication came to its climax on the evening of Friday, October 4, 2019, just before that evening’s home football game. Dignitaries were present. Students read the names, ranks, and service branches of the 44 men the stadium was being rededicated to. The new monument was unveiled. Taps were played. Then the B-17 “Texas Raiders” flew over the stadium, trailing “show smoke” to honor the fallen.
Having a B-17 bomber here for this event is particularly significant to us at El Reno Public Schools because nine of the 43 young men we are honoring with the stadium’s rededication were in B-17 bomb groups in World War 2. Moreover, a host of other people and families from El Reno had ties to the B-17 Flying Fortress bombers during World War 2. Even Leslie F. Roblyer, former ERPS Superintendent and long-time educator for whom our school’s Roblyer Learning Center was named was a navigator in a B-17 during the war.
The newly unveiled monument, which is two-sided, sits right off of Route 66 and is lit around the clock, thanks to King Electric. The front of the monument bears the names, ranks, service branches, service units, and brief information about how each of these 44 men died. Their birth and death dates, along with their ages at death, are also laser engraved in the granite stone, which is surrounded by brickwork that mimics the architecture of the historic El Reno High School building. The backside of the monument, moreover, bears the images of all 44 men, arranged by service branch, next to the kinds of equipment they served in during the war. Old Glory flies above the monument day and night. Click here to see photos of the monument and B-17.
The following week, hundreds of El Reno Public Schools students--who had learned about these 44 men in their classes across the district-- got to tour through the B-17 “Texas Raiders” at the El Reno Regional Airport. A few students and EHS personnel even got a chance to fly in this historic aircraft, an experience they will never forget.
We encourage you to read the individual brief biographies of the 44 men who our Memorial Stadium is named to honor. Click here to read the biographies of the servicemen.
More detailed biographies written by EHS students will be made available at a later date.
RemembER the 44. We RemembER."
Links to news coverage:
OETA / PBS coverage on ONR
KWTV News 9 special five-part series "Remembering the 44": Installment 1 (Friday, Sept. 6, 2019) Installment 2 (Friday, Sept. 13, 2019) Installment 3 (Friday, Sept.20, 2019) Installment 4 (Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019) Installment 5 (Friday, Oct. 4, 2019)
The El Reno Tribune provided extensive coverage of the Memorial Stadium Rededication project from start to finish and beyond. Some of these articles are no longer accessible online, but links are provided when possible:
September 8, 2018 -- “Honoring Their Ultimate Sacrifice” -- The first newspaper article about the Memorial Stadium Rededication project
October 6, 2018 -- “Rukes Says Thanks” (editorial)
June 22, 2019 -- “New Look on History” -- covering Mr. Brian Rukes’ presentation at “El Reno Now!” concerning the Memorial Stadium Rededication project
July 6, 2019 -- “Remembering Edward” -- Tribune article about the family of Edward Roy Burton
and “Edward Roy Burton” biography by EHS student Riley Robertson
July 21, 2019 -- “RemembER the 44: Robert Edgar Monday, Jr.” biography by EHS student Summer Camper
August 31, 2019 -- “Dynamic” -- Tribune article about the family of Bion Leigh Taylor
and “Bion Leigh Taylor” biography by EHS student Calista Nail
September 8, 2019 -- “Raiding El Reno” -- Article about upcoming B-17 “Texas Raiders” visit to flyover rededication and visit El Reno, available for tours https://www.elrenotribune.com/index.php/news/raiding-el-reno
September 14, 2019 -- “Memory Box” -- Tribune article about the family of Homer Don Wright https://www.elrenotribune.com/index.php/news/memory-box-0
September 21, 2019 -- “Roots of Valor” -- Tribune article about the family of Merlyn Dale Rukes https://www.elrenotribune.com/index.php/news/roots-valor
October 2, 2019 -- “El Reno to Rededicate Memorial Stadium” https://www.elrenotribune.com/news/el-reno-rededicate-memorial-stadium
October 6, 2019 -- “Honor Etched in Stone” -- Tribune article highlighting Memorial rededication https://www.elrenotribune.com/news/honor-etched-stone
October 6, 2019 -- “Rededication is a Worthwhile Endeavor” (editorial) https://www.elrenotribune.com/opinion/rededication-worthwhile-endeavor
October 9, 2019 -- “El Reno Remembers” -- Tribune coverage of the rededication ceremony and VIP luncheon for the families of the 44 men being honored: https://www.elrenotribune.com/index.php/news/el-reno-remembers
October 13, 2019: “Memorial Rededication Thanks” -- Letter to the Editor from the Eichor family https://www.elrenotribune.com/index.php/opinion/letter-editor-memorial-rededication-thanks
October 13, 2019: “Taylor Family Thanks” -- Letter to the Editor from the Taylor family https://www.elrenotribune.com/index.php/opinion/letter-editor-taylor-family-thanks
January 5, 2020 -- “Healing and Honoring” (a part of El Reno Tribune’s 2019 year-end summary) https://www.elrenotribune.com/index.php/news/healing-and-honoring
EHS teacher Brian Rukes received a number of honors in relation to his role in this project, as listed here with related articles in the El Reno Tribune:
2019 El Reno Citizen of the Year: ttps://www.elrenotribune.com/index.php/news/thank-you
2019 Grand Marshal of the El Reno Christmas Parade: ttps://www.elrenotribune.com/index.php/news/el-reno-christmas-parade-thursday-night and https://www.elrenotribune.com/index.php/news/city-ushers-holidays-parade
2019 VFW Post 382 Teacher of the Year
2020 VFW Oklahoma 2nd Place honors in High School Teacher of the Year competition https://vfwoklahoma.org/di/vfw/v2/default.asp?pid=71215&d=y&subid=35238&fbclid=IwAR20dlImUusOgWTLWblhm7LETDdV09YXp1K6lfqrIYAuph0bTCzu6GxHgDE