All Over The Map: World War II Kirkland yearbook mystery

Nov 11, 2022, 6:56 AM | Updated: 11:05 am

The death of one classmate and the POW status of another was noted during WWII by Harry Rae in his 1941 Kirkland High School yearbook. (Photo courtesy of Billy Holmgren) Jack McKenna was a 1941 graduate of Kirkland High School who died overseas during World War II, and whose death was noted by fellow 'Kangaroo' Harry Rae. (Photo courtesyof  Billy Holmgren) Two members of the Kirkland High School Class of 1943 are shown in a 1941 yearbook which was purchased at a swap meet; the yearbook belonged to Harry Rae, who noted the WWII deaths of his classmates David Bartley and Don Biggs. (Photo courtesy of Billy Holmgren)

Billy Holmgren is a Kangaroo. He lives in Kennewick in Eastern Washington, but he’s a 1993 graduate of Lake Washington High School on Rose Hill in Kirkland.

About 20 years ago, Holmgren came into possession of a 1941 yearbook from Kirkland High School – which is what Lake Washington High School was originally called when it was located in downtown Kirkland from the early 20th century to the late 1940s. Though the school moved up the hill and changed its name in 1949, Lake Washington High School kept the same mascot: Kangaroos, or Kangs for short.

The yearbook Holmgren has originally belonged to a sophomore from Kirkland named Harry Rae, who had a twin brother named Harvey Rae. Though it’s more than 80 years old, it has all the things you’d expect to see in a typical yearbook – photos of kids and teachers, ads for local businesses, and all kinds of signatures and personalized inscriptions. Anyone who attended high school in the United States in the 20th century would likely recognize this artifact and know what it was right away.

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However, there are at least a few things that make this particular book stand out from other annuals of more recent vintage. First, it’s from late spring 1941 – or about six months before the United States entered World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Second, and what really sets the old yearbook apart, are the notes that Harry Rae made in it a few years after 1941. It was wartime, of course, and before Harry or his twin brother Harvey could officially graduate from Kirkland High School, Harry was in the Navy, and Harvey was in the Army. Both men survived the war and remained in the Seattle area for the rest of their lives.

And though he was serving in the Navy, what Harry Rae managed to do during 1944 and 1945 was track the fate of other Kirkland High School classmates who had also joined the military or had been drafted. Specifically, he kept notes on those who were prisoners of war or were killed in action overseas by marking up his 1941 Kangaroo yearbook.

On the old black and white pages, photos of particular classmates are circled, and Rae wrote detailed notes in the margins about what were, essentially, some Kirkland teenagers who he happened to know – just kids, really — who went to war 80 years ago.

And that’s why Billy Holmgren reached out to KIRO Newsradio.

“I didn’t want it to just get tucked away and forgotten,” Holmgren said by phone a few days ago. “This individual had spent so much time documenting each of these young persons’ lives and where they ended up ultimately giving their life during WWII – down to the location, what branch of the military they were, in what day of the year.”

“I just felt that they deserved to have the spotlight put on them and honor their ultimate sacrifice,” Holmgren said.

Holmgren isn’t related to Harry Rae. A friend of Holmgren’s found the 1941 yearbook at the old Midway Drive-In swap meet back in the 1990s. Now, Holmgren wants to find a good home for it – ideally with a member of the Rae family.

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Based on newspaper clippings and other online sources tracked down by Matthew McCauley and Loita Hawkinson of the Kirkland Heritage Society – after KIRO Newsradio reached out to them for help – we know that Harry Rae passed away in 2000, and it appears that he and his wife (who died in 1999) did not have any children; his twin brother Harvey died in 1995. On Thursday – based on those old newspaper clippings – KIRO Newsradio left phone messages for five separate people in Western Washington who may be nieces and nephews of Harry Rae.

Along with photos of the Rae twins in their sophomore year at Kirkland High School, Harry Rae’s notes about his classmates reveal tantalizing fragments of stories about personal sacrifices made in World War II by fellow Kirkland Kangs.

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One of Harry’s friends in the yearbook is 1941 Kirkland High School graduate Jack McKenna. He signed his photo for Harry. A search in the newspaper archives reveals that McKenna earned a scholarship to Harvard and enrolled there in autumn 1941. After two years at Harvard, he joined the Army and went overseas in late 1944. Then, in Germany in March 1945, McKenna was killed while rescuing a fellow soldier and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.

A Seattle Times article published on May 23, 1945 describes how on March 4, 1945, “Sergeant McKenna, then a private, first-class, distinguished himself by gallantry in action beyond the call of duty while his unit was establishing a beachhead [probably “bridgehead”] on the Kyll River in Germany, by aiding a wounded man to safety despite constant machine-gun and mortar fire.”

Harry Rae’s notes call out three more classmates who died in World War II, including David Bartley and Don Biggs (who were also sophomores in 1941) and Fred Brown, who was a junior. In addition, Rae notes classmates Babe Takeoka and Kiyoshi Yabuki were both Japanese-Americans, and were members of the legendary 442nd Regimental Combat Team. They were both wounded in France, likely in 1944.

If you know a member of the Rae family, or perhaps relatives of the Kirkland High School students who served in World War II and who were friends of Harry Rae, please reach out via my contact information below.

Nothing would make Billy Holmgren happier than to see the 1941 yearbook returned to its rightful place with the Rae family.

“I always thought of myself as the caretaker of Harry’s yearbook,” Holmgren wrote in an email to KIRO Newsradio on Thursday. “Fearing that it would become lost to the dark corners of a dusty archive led me to reach out [to KIRO Newsradio]. Coming full circle and being able to pass it on to the Rae family where it truly belongs would be amazing!”

Which is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a fellow Kangaroo.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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All Over The Map: World War II Kirkland yearbook mystery