Piano serves as unorthodox memorial to WWII-era soldiers
by Jennifer Cohron
May 28, 2012 | 1318 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Hundreds of soldiers carved their names into this  piano, now housed at the BSCC cafeteria. Photo by: Jennifer Cohron
Hundreds of soldiers carved their names into this piano, now housed at the BSCC cafeteria. Photo by: Jennifer Cohron
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Diners who have noticed the graffiti on the piano in Bevill State Community College’s Frances Israel Cafeteria may have assumed it to be the work of unruly college students.

However, a closer investigation reveals that the etchings are the names of soldiers.

The men hailed from every state in the Union and ranged in rank from privates to sergeants.

Although most of them never met, they are forever linked by the cause for which they fought and the piano they encountered at the United Service Organization center located in downtown Jasper during World War II.

“We’re talking about kids who were between 18 and 21 years old and probably hadn’t been away from home more than one county by the time they got in the service,” said local resident Oscar Yelverton.

Yelverton’s father was part of a group of local men who contributed to the war effort by performing in USO shows for the troops who passed through town on their way to training or a deployment overseas.

Yelverton, a boy at the time, spent some time with the soldiers at a local cafe owned by his best friend’s father as well as at the USO.

Yelverton was watching when one soldier added his name to the piano but can no longer recall which one. How the tradition started and the fate of most of the young men who chose to leave their mark are also mysteries to him.

“I’m sure we’re looking at the names of some people who did not come home,” Yelverton said.

Yelverton lost track of the piano once the war ended and was surprised to see it again years later in the cafeteria at Walker College, now BSCC.

Dr. David Rowland, longtime president of Walker College, said the piano was among the contents of the former American Legion building when the college purchased it in the 1960s.

A fire later destroyed the building, but the piano survived and was put on display in the cafeteria.

Rowland said he hopes the community will continue to make the effort to preserve the piano in honor of the 16 million Americans who served during World War II.

“It’s not very pretty, and it’s not very useful, but I hope it will be seen as what it is — a treasure,” Rowland said.