We Were Here

Activist spearheads movement for historical marker at old Edison High

The site of old Thomas A. Edison High School thus far includes plans for a Save-A-Lot, Burger King, Subway Sandwich Shop, Family Dollar and Kicks sneaker store.

Long-time activist and community leader Bob Shipman wants it to also include a historical marker.

“It would personally settle a long over-due debt to my lost brothers,” he said.

The site at 8th Street and Lehigh Avenue in North Philadelphia is now a pile of dirt and rubble, awaiting its rebirth next year as the Edison Square shopping center. But before the 110-year-old castle-like building closed, caught fire and was demolished recently, it was a popular place for armed forces recruitment during the Vietnam War.

Sixty-six former Edison students died in Vietnam – more than from any other school in the country.

“Others returned badly damaged,” Shipman, who attended Edison up until 1970, recalled. “The marker would be somewhere where we can visit and reflect.”

When Shipman put out a call to his email and Facebook networks of, “Let’s start a movement to honor our families and veterans. Who is with me?” responses were swift.

Vietnam veteran Ari Merretazon, now executive director of the Pointman Soldiers Heart Ministry, offered, “We will follow and support your leadership, Shoulder to Shoulder, Boot to Boot.”

Added Darryrl Johnson, an Edison graduate and current teacher at the new Edison High School on W. Luzerne Street, “This would be significant achievement. How can we get this going?”

It’s going. Shipman now volunteers three half-days a week at Pointman’s headquarters, with other alumni and war veterans to raise the $1,500 and prepare an application to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Actually, Edison’s Square’s Mosaic Development Partners and Orens Brothers Real Estate Inc. have referenced consideration for a Vietnam memorial at the site and an apartment building for veterans.

But Shipman said this grass-roots movement by former students and veterans is not a commercial development idea, but a living, breathing testament to all that was done and lost to the war.

Shipman described students of an “intergalactic” era, influenced by former legislator David P. Richardson and educator Walter Palmer. They marched outside the Philadelphia School Board for a Student Bill of Rights and for Black History studies.

They shared the freshman ritual of having to kiss the two stone lions erected outside the school and fear of the draft.

Shipman was saved by his status as an only son and student. But he suffers a haunting survivor’s guilt and effects of the war on generations to come.

“The guys came back with heroine addictions, violent dreams and diseases,” he said. “Agent Orange caused brain damage and birth defects. . . . Vietnam vets are still angry for a ton of reasons. . .They are on an island of their own.”

From those who were there, this marker would be a beacon.