It's been almost a year since thieves broke the locks at Santa Ana High School and tore from the walls several plaques that honored the school's war dead, apparently to sell as scrap.Last year someone stole the catalytic converter from one of my parents' vehicles, trying to get the platinum which had become valuable. This was a growing crime problem in Orange County and elsewhere, though it has lately become less profitable.
School officials and alumni have begun raising the thousands of dollars they expect it will cost to replace the plaques. They want to have at least a few re-cast by the end of the year, maybe those that paid tribute to the former students who died in the two world wars.
There were six plaques in all, cast in solid bronze and brass, bolted to the walls of the school's entryway. Four memorialized those who died in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
A fifth commemorated the rededication of the school after a major earthquake in the 1930s. The sixth celebrated the school's centennial in 1989.
School officials suspect at least two thieves cut the padlocks on a gate across the entryway in the middle of the night last October. The thieves wrenched the six plaques from the wall; each weighed at least 30 pounds.
At the time, the going price for bronze on the local scrap market meant the thieves would have gotten no more than $50 for each of the plaques.
But the plaques were made of something much more valuable than metal: names. School officials worried after the thefts that they had no surviving lists of students killed as long ago as the First World War. They weren't sure they'd be able to re-create the plaques, even if they could afford to.
And then they ran into some unexpected good luck. A school resource officer had snapped digital pictures of each of the plaques, to document them. The pictures were clear enough to make out the lost names.
It was a nuisance to replace this part that was stolen for scrap metal, but at least there was no sentimental value tied up in the auto part. I think it's especially tragic when something that holds more sentimental value to the owner than financial value is stolen by people looking for a quick buck. For the school, these plaques had value far beyond the price of their metal on the black market.
But theft for scrap has been a growing problem recently in Southern California, where bronze statues of miners, a young Picasso, or the Virgin Mary that have stood watch since the 1920s are ripped or sliced from their pedestals and taken away to be melted down.