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HEIDELBERG, Germany — It was the lion’s last roar.

In the gym of the soon-to-be-shuttered Heidelberg High School, students, administrators, teachers and former students of the school with the leonine mascot gathered to hear it one more time, and bid it “Auf Wiedersehen.”

The closing ceremony on Friday for the high school, the last remaining of the original six Department of Defense schools in Germany, was the first of several events in a week of farewells to the denizens of the U.S. Army garrison, which is leaving the fairy tale city that their forebears found too beautiful to bomb.

At least that was the story.

“They said, ‘Let’s bomb Mannheim instead,’” said a speaker at the beginning of the two-hour tribute, remembrance and pep rally.

There was a lot of participation by students, alumni, teachers and administrators as mistress of ceremonies Emily Gourdine led them through the school’s 67-year history, era by era, as though it were a children’s bedtime story.

“My precious baby cub-lets: “Are we happy? Are we sad?” Gourdine, a Heidelberg High teacher, said at one point. “All of us are both happy and sad.”

What became the high school opened in buildings at the University of Heidelberg when World War II ended in 1946. There were 60 students in first through 12th grades, some of them from Stuttgart, Mannheim and Karlsruhe. They all lived in dormitories then, according to the program, with the girls’ dormitory at the top of 128 steps.

Eight students graduated the following year, with a ceremony at the Heidelberg castle, which got their photo on the cover of Life Magazine.

Five years later, as more “Cold Warriors” and their dependents flooded into Germany, the current high school opened.

Its last graduating class as the school closes its doors forever in two weeks with a downsized U.S. Army Europe moving to Wiesbaden, numbers 117.

Speakers at the event all touched the same themes: the excellence of the American school, the wonders of living in Europe, the beauty of the city and the warmth of their German hosts.

“We danced where dukes and duchesses once walked,” said Carol Kuzmick, a Heidelberg teacher, principal and administrator for the past 27 years. “We’ve walked in the footsteps of Mark Twain on the Philosophers’ Way. We’ve partied under medieval arches.”

Kuzmick and other speakers also emphasized the idea that while things change or even end, as American poet Walt Whitman once wrote: “Nothing is ever really lost, or can be lost.”

“It’s the lion’s last roar, the end of an era,” Kuzmick said. ”Yes, the doors of Heidelberg High School will close in June. But the roar of the mighty lion will continue to echo through the Neckar Valley.”

Among the speakers was a 2004 graduate, Lt. j.g. Jacob Patrick, now a Navy aviator, who showed up in his flight suit and talked about the discipline and teamwork he’d learned playing high school sports.

Before the school’s colors were cased and the honor guard marched out for the last time, Principal Kevin Brewer took the podium and gave a master class in how to fire up a crowd.

When they close the doors a final time, he said, there will be one memory that none of them could ever forget.

“You hear it off in the distance,” he said.

“Heidelberg,” he said in a low quick growl.

“Then it grows louder,” he said.

“Heidelberg!” he shouted. “Hei-del-berg!”

At that, the gymnasium erupted. “Hei-del-berg! Hei-del-berg! Hei-del-berg!” they shouted, clapping and stomping their feet.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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