Sam Wolfsdorf

collageMr. Alfaro,

It must be such an honor to be the principal of such a great high school as Chula Vista High School. It is so rich with history, tradition and dedication that reflect our Democratic way of life in view of the tragedy of September 11, 2001.

Throughout it’s over fifty year history it has served as the prime example of what the American way of life truly should have been in lieu of the post World War II era of racism and anti-Semitism that was fomented by the Klu Klux Clan and other hate groups. Long before African Americans, Hispanics and Jews were allowed to coexist in a truly integrated environment in the rest of our country, Chula Vista High School and it’s representative South Bay community was already doing this. Much like Ellis Island in New York, it was the melting pot for the varied cultures that lived in the South Bay area at that time. These diverse groups served as the mainstay of all aspects of the CVHS student body including academics, student body activities and athletics. If you go back and examine the school annuals of 1949-50 you will see all groups equally represented. Fentress Neal and Frank Castro and Ben Segawa were respective stand out African, Hispanic and Asian American athletes of that early time period.

As a child, born in Ensenada, Mexico in 1941 our family emigrated to San Ysidro in 1947 from Tijuana shortly after the horrors of WWII were over. Speaking our native Spanish language and not a word of English my older brother Joe and I grew up in San Ysidro between 1947 and 1959. We have fond memories of all the high school did during our younger formative years to lay the foundation for later more difficult years in our lives. I recall the long spiraling chain of yellow buses going up the winding road to Brown Field, the original home for Chula Vista High School. As our young men and women were once again called upon to defend our democratic way of life in 1950 these were replaced by vapor trails of fighter planes landing and taking off from Brown Field once again as they had during World War II.

Our family’s attempt to get Sam Wolfsdorf into the Hall of Champions at CVHS is not a personal endeavor by us to bring honor to him or us. It is not an effort to extol his great citizenship and athletic abilities. For in 1949-50 the small fledgling school did not enjoy the stature of the later glory years including several Metro League, SCIF and San Diego CIF championship years.

This is the story of a young, enthusiastic Hispanic Jewish boy that paid the ultimate sacrifice for his country in August of 1951 on the bloody battlefield of Korea. Sam Wolfsdorf was born in Juarez, Mexico in 1930. His birth certificate lists him as Jose Wolfsdorf. His father’s name was Luis. Around 1937 in an effort to make a better life, our Aunt Sally and cousin Sam moved to Brooklyn, New York. Burdened there as a single parent she struggled and strove to give her son a better life. Initially scrubbing floors and cleaning houses and later working in a New York Luncheonette as a cook she was able to give her son an education through middle school. He was a model student, citizen and star athlete in Brooklyn. Much of his outstanding citizenship including intolerance for racism and anti-Semitism were formed while living in the racially diverse Brooklyn of the Great Depression and World War II. This community environment composed of Irish American, Italian American, Puerto Rican American, African American and Jewish American families laid the foundation for living in harmony with all ethnic and religious groups. In addition to this, New York being a key player in all war related activities formed his strong belief in duty and honor to our county. This early thinking was later carried over into living in the Mexican American environment of South Bay.

After discovering that most of their family had been killed in the Holocaust during World War II Aunt Sally and her brother, Jaime Gechter our father, made an attempt to reunite in Tijuana, Mexico. Around 1947 Aunt Sally and Sam returned to live with us there. That same year we all moved to San Ysidro.

Sam started CVHS with the first class as a sophomore in the fall of 1947 at the Brown Field CVHS campus. He graduated with the first class at the new high school at 4th Ave & K Street in 1950. During his term as a student there until his graduation in 1950 he was a star football and track athlete and model citizen as well as an ROTC officer. I remember Sam getting off the bus many times in front of the San Ysidro library limping along after a rough game with larger more powerful schools. A knap sack over his shoulder carrying the dirty sweaty laundry from the game.

In his senior year, the fall of 1949, Sam was a “Star Halfback”, MVP Co-Captain of the team. He was also named to the All-Metro Squad. The first home football game ever played at the “4th & K” campus was a real classic. Sam “The San Ysidro Kid”(as he was referred to in many local newspaper articles) inaugurated the new home football field by scoring three touchdowns to lead the Spartans to a victory over Oceanside. The football used that historic day was signed by the varsity squad and is presently at your campus. It was on display in one of your trophy cases in the main building with other historic sports memorabilia including the one for MVP until a few months ago

Not unlike the controversial Vietnam War, the Korean War is often referred to as the forgotten war. As many young American boys choose to leave for Canada during the Viet Nam War lots had similar options during the Korean War. Sam also had this alternative. Sill stinging from the horrors of the Holocaust he was encouraged by many family members to return to his native Mexico and sit out the war. Sam being a strong patriot would hear none of this. So in 1951 he enlisted in the U.S. Army. Several days after arriving in Korea, he was killed in action.

This was a devastating blow to our Aunt Sally and the rest of our family. She eventually lost her job at the Van Camps tuna packing plant because she was unable to work due to the severe loss of her only son. Sam also had many CVHS friends that were also in shock because of the sad news. Shortly after Sam’s death, his alumni and fellow classmates got together with the Chula Vista High School Administration and started the Sam Wolfsdorf Memorial Citizenship Trophy, which is awarded each year to the student that was the best citizen that year. I think Geneva Dupree, Sam’s girlfriend, was in charge of this Memorial Movement. The trophy is presently in your cafeteria trophy case with many other trophies. Years ago while attending summer school session there, as a troubled youth, I remember seeing Sam’s Memorial Trophy when it used to be displayed in the Main Building near that “Classic Clock” you have there hanging in the Main Hall. The Sam Wolfsdorf Memorial Citizen Trophy has a 50-year history and tradition. That trophy as well as the MVP Football trophy with his name on it turned my life around and kept me out of trouble in later years. I am sure that his history and the dedication to the high ideals of this country will help and be an inspiration to all CVHS students.

As previously noted my brother Jack Gechter visited CVHS to see Sam’s Memorial Trophy and talked to Mr. Larry Perondi, Principal of the school then, and Mr. Gary Chapman, Assistant Principal at that time. After looking at all the old memorabilia displays CVHS had on exhibit Jack told them that he wanted to donate to CVHS, Sam’s Letterman’s Sweater to be displayed next to the Sam Wolfsdorf Memorial Citizenship Trophy. Mr. Perondi and Mr. Chapman both agreed that this would be a grand idea. Mr. Perondi said it would be enormous to display this were the present Hall of Fame area is. Mr. Chapman asked Jack if he had any pictures of Sam. He said yes we do, but they are presently stored in the Washington D.C. area at Ruben’s house. Jack then came up with the idea of having the colleague put together. So, he got the old CVHS Annuals, photo albums and scrapbooks from Ruben and found the right person to create the collage the way Jack envisioned it. Jack personally paid several hundred dollars to do this under the premise, by the previous administrators, that it would be displayed in the Hall of Champions.

On Friday February 2,2002 Jack brought Sam’s Letterman’s Sweater and the picture colleague of Sam to Ms. Gabriela Parra, Counselor for Mr. Alfaro now Principal of CVHS, to look at. She presently has them both in her office.

Once again hopefully you will read this letter, see the sweater and colleague and find it in your heart to help us “Band of Brothers”, Jack Gechter, Joe Gechter and Ruben Gechter to have these permanently displayed in the CVHS Hall of Fame along with Sam’s Memorial Trophy.

We visited the trophy in June of 2001. Mr. Chapman met with us and gave us a lot of background history about Sam’s Memorial Trophy and the award. He walked us over to the football field and showed us where the large Spartan Statue is. I think he said that this was called Sports Heroes Park. He said that there was a proposed project to set bricks here with the names of famous Spartan Athletes that have played on this football field. Mr. Chapman said that Sam’s name was going to be the first brick placed because he was the first MVP Star Athlete on this field. On September 2001 we donated $300 to CVHS to jump-start this project. We, Joe, Ruben and Jack received thank you letters from Mr. Edward M. Brand Sweetwater Union High School District Superintendent. While visiting on campus recently Jack noticed that nothing on these “Sports Heroes bricks” has been done yet. Please let us know if there is any thing we can do to get this going by raising more money, get a contractor, etc.

In conclusion, Jack has done much to honor the glory of this vanquished patriot. His first major endeavor was to have Sam’s name added to the Veteran’s Memorial and memorial park in Chula Vista for fallen comrades. Conceitedly, this is next to the park where CVHS held it’s early graduation ceremonies.

Sam’s patriotic inspiration was followed by two of the brothers Joe and Jack serving in the United States Marine Corps. In these trying times the display of Sam’s memorabilia in the “Spartan Hall of Fame” would serve as an inspiration to all youth at the current CVHS.

For the last nine years I have been living in Washington, D.C. a city were many monuments are dedicated to our fallen comrades. I drove by the Pentagon shortly before it was attacked. I could see it on fire from the top of my office building. One of our cousin’s husbands perished in the Twin Towers trying to get out.

My brothers and I will be in San Diego on Memorial Day weekend for my daughters wedding as well as to honor the memory of our fallen comrade Sam Wolfsdorf. We would hope that you will help us in finishing this matter up since we believe it would be a tremendous tribute to an outstanding CVHS alumni as well as serving as an inspiration for other students. I feel very confident that the first Principal of this great school and later District Superintendent Joseph Rindone Jr. would also be very proud if this were to take place.

Ruben Gechter