Albert Huddleston’s military appreciation didn’t start in the Park Cities, but that’s certainly where it manifested.
The developer is responsible for a giant plaque at Highland Park High School and three full-length documentaries specifically saluting veterans with local ties, but he traces his passion back to his boyhood roots in Tennessee.
That’s where Huddleston attended the same military boarding school as his father, who enlisted after Pearl Harbor and was later killed during World War II.
The campus featured a checkerboard display listing the names of all former students who went to war, separated into those who survived and those who were killed. He came across his father’s name.
“That was the most impactful thing that I had ever witnessed, that all those people stood where I stood,” Huddleston said.
His wife, Mary, graduated from HPHS and met Huddleston in college. They moved back to the Park Cities in 1981 and started a family. As three of his children also attended HPHS, his thoughts on saluting veterans remained steadfast, leading to his local efforts to generate recognition.
He began by compiling a database of veterans who had graduated from the school, then hired architect Bill Booziotis to design a large plaque with their names that still resides in the foyer.
During a dedication ceremony for the plaque, Huddleston was moved by a handful of poignant memories from family members of those who had died while at war. That hatched another idea.
“The plaque was important, but we needed to capture these stories,” Huddleston said. “It’s amazing how much DNA still resides here associated with those people.”
So Huddleston hired a film crew that brought together veterans from a 40-year period ranging from WWII to the Vietnam War, and combined those interviews with archival footage.
The process took several years during the early 2000s. Some interviewees were skeptical at first, while others found the experience cathartic.
“[Huddleston] did a first-class job,” said Syd Carter, who was part of a Marine fighter squadron on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific during the late 1950s. He later spent 31 years as a commercial airline pilot. “The camaraderie is as tight as you’ll find anywhere. All these memories came flooding back.”
Most recently, the second film in the series was screened as part of the Stars & Stripes Film Festival in November at the Angelika Film Center, for which Carter was the honorary chair. That festival included a showing of The Bridges at Toko-Ri, the 1954 romantic drama that first spurred Carter’s interest in flying.
During the past several years, the films have been shown periodically on public television and screened for students at the high school. The DVDs also have been sold, with proceeds benefiting the Highland Park Education Foundation.
Huddleston would like to see it become a regular part of the curriculum to connect current students to the past.
“I don’t like revisionist history. I wanted the students to see it, to hear the words from those who were there. These men had sat in some of the same chairs they were sitting in,” he said. “We want them to understand this legacy of service.”