Sgt. Harold E. Riker, Jr.
July 26, 1931 – February 20, 1951

School Days
Harold, We Scarcely Knew Ye!

The year that I met Harold Riker, school began, as usual, on the Wednesday after Labor Day. It must have been the fourth day of September in that long-gone 1946, and we were beginning our junior year at Skaneateles High School. I don’t recall talking to him that first day, but I do remember that he sat against the inside wall near the back of the large hall that served as our homeroom. With dirty-blond hair and an upper lip bearing a heavy crop of platinum peach fuzz, at fifteen years old he was average good-looking. As might be expected of a new kid in a strange school, he was a little shy at first. Over the next two years, however, his friendly, easy-going nature was to make him a popular member of our class.

That first semester he and I must have been in different sections of English class, for at the end of the first day I remember some of the girls telling me about his getting up when called upon, standing at attention, and saying “Yes, Ma’am” and “No, Ma’am.” I guess that was our first clue that he was not a Yankee. The second, of course, was that he spoke with a slight southern accent. We soon learned that he had transferred from Winter Park, Florida, and that he lived with his mother and stepfather on Pork Street, a short distance outside of the village.

During his first year at Skaneateles, he joined the dramatics club and the tumbling club. He also was on the boxing squad and went out for the baseball team in the spring. We were drawn together as friends because of a mutual interest in photography. I had a cheap plastic-bodied 127mm camera with a fixed-focus lens and a flash attachment, but he owned what I viewed as a real treasure. It was a 35mm Argus C3. However, he had neither light meter nor flash, and with the necessity to adjust focus and to estimate f-stop and shutter speed he less frequently got a decent picture than I did. It all contributed to a friendly competition that we both enjoyed.

Although I had a part-time job Thursday and Friday afternoon and all day Saturday, clerking in a local grocery store, I still had enough time to knock around with my school chums. Harold was frequently included in these activities, and I can remember our going to local dances, hitchhiking to nearby communities looking for excitement, and doing together all the other things that teenaged boys do.

Our senior year he was again on the boxing squad and a member of the baseball team. Also, he was a member of the yearbook staff, the newspaper staff, the dramatics club, and the cast of the senior play.

Sometime during the late autumn of our senior year our class went on a field trip to Syracuse to view the historic documents that were being transported and exhibited around the state aboard the Freedom Train. Several of us-I believe the group consisted of Viola Lansbury, Olga Koruna, Reva Close, Wilfred Crarie, Harold, and me-got permission to separate from the group and return to Skaneateles on our own. The three accompanying pictures, taken with my camera, date from that afternoon. 1. Apple picture (with comment about blouson jacket) 2. Green Dolphin (with explanation) 3. “Easy Washer.” [Probably should include ONLY apple picture, and all those names are not necessary.]

An example of a picture taken, spring 1948, with Harold’s camera is the accompanying picture of Harold (left), Peggy, Heath (right), and me (back), taken in room 28, the senior homeroom at the school. We were a happy and innocent crew, looking forward to graduation and to our futures.

Although he did not seem physically less mature, Harold was about a year younger than most of the rest of us. As a result, the majority of our friends had obtained working papers sometime during 1946, and some of us, both boys and girls, worked in stores and soda fountains downtown. Harold, too young to be legally employed, spent much of his time downtown, hanging out at the Brounstein clothing store, running errands for them and getting paid under the table, or at Stub Smith’s magazine and cigar store, playing the pinball machines. When, halfway through the summer before our senior year he finally turned sixteen, he was delighted to be able officially to go to work for the Brounsteins. He worked there until he left to join the U.S. Marines a year later. It was the only civilian job he ever had.

As the Cold War threat increased, Congress, in 1948, realizing that the country had disarmed to too great an extent after World War II, re-instituted the draft. It was decreed that eighteen-year-olds should register for the draft in September. It was possible at the time to enlist in the various branches of the service, for periods of time varying from one to three years. Some, thinking that they would fulfill their military obligation prior to beginning college, took the opportunity and enlisted. Harold and our friend Carl Wellman decided on that option. Harold needed his mother’s permission to enlist as soon as he turned seventeen on July 26 of that year. He got it, and signed up for three years. It is not altogether clear that his mother realized that he was enlisting for three years rather than one. (Some have the story differently, thinking he initially signed for one year and then re-upped later without his mother’s knowledge.)

I recall meeting Harold one day at the local swimming area toward or during the last week of July. He tried to convince me that I should join the U.S. Marine Corps with him and Carl. He told me he was going for three years and Carl for one. I considered it briefly, but I decided against it because I had already been accepted for college to start just six weeks later.

I never saw Harold again. We had been friends for twenty-three months.

Boot Camp and Peacetime Service

Addition: Harold's military records reveal that he was born in Ithaca, New York. Also, I had long thought that Harold had moved from Winter Park WITH his mother and stapfather, but in the fall of 2004 I learned from our classmate Dick Kovar that such was not the case. Dick told me that Harold had been living in Winter Park with his father, but when Harold's mother moved to Skaneateles Harold hitch-hiked on his own to Skaneateles. He was barely fifteen, his fifteenth birthday having been on July 26 of that year. I am now uncertain as to where Harold's mother had been living prior to her move to Skaneateles.

© copyright 2000 Kenneth Jennings Wooster
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