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Alumni, current students, faculty and base officials take part in a tree-planting ceremony at Zama American High School. The school celebrated the 50th anniversary of their first graduating class this weekend.

Alumni, current students, faculty and base officials take part in a tree-planting ceremony at Zama American High School. The school celebrated the 50th anniversary of their first graduating class this weekend. (Bryce S. Dubee / S&S)

Alumni, current students, faculty and base officials take part in a tree-planting ceremony at Zama American High School. The school celebrated the 50th anniversary of their first graduating class this weekend.

Alumni, current students, faculty and base officials take part in a tree-planting ceremony at Zama American High School. The school celebrated the 50th anniversary of their first graduating class this weekend. (Bryce S. Dubee / S&S)

Levon Martin, left, representing the class of 1961, and Lyle Bishop, representing the class of 1960, pose for a picture following the tree planting ceremony at Zama American High School.

Levon Martin, left, representing the class of 1961, and Lyle Bishop, representing the class of 1960, pose for a picture following the tree planting ceremony at Zama American High School. (Bryce S. Dubee / S&S)

Zama American High School Principal Jerry Ashby, left, points out landmarks to visiting alumni during a tour of the school Friday morning.

Zama American High School Principal Jerry Ashby, left, points out landmarks to visiting alumni during a tour of the school Friday morning. (Bryce S. Dubee / S&S)

Walking along the school track, former majorettes Jeanne Fredericks, left, representing the class of 1965, and Terry Englehart, class of 1966, reminisce about their days at Zama American High School.

Walking along the school track, former majorettes Jeanne Fredericks, left, representing the class of 1965, and Terry Englehart, class of 1966, reminisce about their days at Zama American High School. (Bryce S. Dubee / S&S)

CAMP ZAMA, Japan — Fifty years ago, the Big Bopper had just died, rapper Flavor Flav was born and a small American high school at Camp Zama held its first graduation.

More than 100 school alumni representing graduating classes from throughout Zama American’s history gathered on base this weekend to celebrate the school’s history.

“This is great, I’m having a lovely time,” said Lyle Bishop, representing the class of 1960, the oldest class present.

The celebration began Friday morning with a tree-planting ceremony in which alumni, current students and school faculty planted 15 trees near the school grounds.

Afterward, alumni were taken on a tour of the school and allowed to explore the school grounds.

“There used to be nothing here,” exclaimed Levon Martin, class of 1961, who was returning to Zama for the first time. “It’s nice to be back.”

Walking alongside the school’s football field, former majorettes Jeanne Fredericks and Terry Englehart from the classes of 1965 and 1966, respectively, reminisced about performing on the same field decades ago.

“It’s weird and wonderful being back,” Fredericks said.

The unusual bond shared by military brats is one that goes beyond just the year a person graduated, she said.

“The bond is in the lifestyle … It’s the people who understand what it was like,” Englehart said. “Even if I don’t know people here, I know we shared a common experience.”

The idea for the celebration began last spring during an alumni gathering in New Orleans and was the result of collaboration between school faculty, alumni and base officials, said Zama Principal Jerry Ashby.

“It’s good to see people come back and reconnect,” he said. “I think it’s important to stay in touch.”

Base commander Col. Robert M. Waltemeyer said he was impressed by the strong connection the alumni have with the installation.

“The alumni group is very active (on base),” he said. “They really have a strong sense of community.”

Watching the gathering of generations of former students, freshmen Cyla Haskins and Suzanne Avery said they, too, were taken aback by the close connections the alumni shared.

“They have so many stories to tell,” Haskins said. “It’s kind of amazing.”

Avery agreed, reflecting on her own future.

“It makes me think of where we’re going to be in 10, 20, or even 50 years,” she said.

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