70 Years Later, Class of 1943 Holds Prom They Never Got

May 20, 2013 5:05pm

Members of a Connecticut high school class of 1943 finally got the prom they should have had 70 years ago, before their senior celebration was interrupted by World War II.

Anthony Pegnataro, the 1943 class president of James Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Conn., remembers the attack on Pearl Harbor like it was yesterday. On Dec. 7, 1941, Pegnataro said, he and his friends were skating at an ice rink, with the Tommy Dorsey Band’s “Hawaiian War Chant” playing.

“They stopped the song and announced that the Japanese had just attacked Peal Harbor,” Pegnataro said. “We had never heard of Pearl Harbor.”

Pegnataro said he and his friends went home and heard President Franklin D. Roosevelt announce over the radio that America had entered a state of war.

“From there on we just mustered up, it was like no other experience in my life,” Pegnataro said. “We just wanted to get out there and take care of the Japanese.”

Going to war meant no prom. Pegnataro’s carefree high school life was suddenly halted.

“Most of us graduated to the man and went right into the service,” Pegnataro said. “I graduated in June and was in the Marine Corps in July, and was pretty much the case for most everybody.”

Of the 1,585 students at James Hillhouse High School, the remaining class today estimates between 250 and 300 of their classmates never made it back from war.

Pegnataro, who is now 87, decided that along with their 70-year class reunion, they would also hold that prom they never got to have. Approximately 70 people from around the country came to dance Sunday.

“It was excellent, it marvelous. It was well attended. Everyone there just had a great time,” Pegnataro said. “Those that came figured it might be their last one.”

Pegnataro said he was “proud as punch” to bring his wife of 53 years back to the prom. They met during the war. Pegnataro said the prom proved they’re still the “greatest generation” and that the war brought his class closer together.

“We missed out on the prom that we should have had. And the 70th reunion was a milestone in our lives,” he said. “We all made it.”

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