The Legacy of D-Day

June 6, 1944 was not just another day in world history. We know it as D-Day and it has become synonymous with freedom, courage, and sacrifice. I've tried to capture some of these themes in an essay titled "The Legacy of D-Day". Click here to read more
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HELP WANTED ...

To my Walnut friends past and present; I am in need of your help. I am currently working on a book project tentatively titled, “Ordinary Heroes; The Men Who Shaped My Life and the War That Shaped Theirs” focusing on the men (and women) from Walnut who served in World War II and returned to become my scout leaders, teachers, neighbors, community leaders, and friends. Growing up in the 50s and 60s these were the folks that helped shape my young life in ways I couldn’t possibly understand then. What I need is background information, stories, and pictures. I can’t promise to include everything or everybody but whatever you can send my about anyone you think might add to this project I will greatly appreciate. You can send any information to ordinaryheroes@roneckberg.com . If you have questions you can Facebook message me or call 815-499-6350.

If you would like to read an introduction to the book I have included two on this page! Thank you in advance!!!
 

INTRODUCTION

Perhaps no other event in our nation’s history has produced more heroes than World War II.

Few of those heroes returned home to become entertainment giants, sports superstars, or business tycoons. Few built empires, placed their names in the record books, or discovered cures for any of mankind’s many diseases. Few returned to find their picture on the covers of Life or Saturday Evening Post.

They were common, ordinary men who came from common, ordinary backgrounds. They held ordinary dreams for ordinary lives yet left to do an extraordinary duty. They left behind cornfields to trudge the world’s battlefields, then returned home to become carpenters, farmers, laborers, husbands, fathers, and friends.

Nevertheless, they will forever remain imbedded in our nation’s consciousness as he-roes. They will be remembered as such because they lived in a time that placed incredible demands upon their simple lives. They will be remembered as heroes because they answered the call of their country in the time of their country’s need. They will be remembered as heroes because they did the job set before them without hesitancy, without complaint, without question.

Journalist and author Tom Brokaw called them the “greatest generation” and that designation has deservedly stuck. Their greatness was most certainly demonstrated on the battlefields of Europe, Africa, Asia and across the Pacific. It was demonstrated on the ground, in the air, upon the great seas and under those same seas.

But their heroism didn’t stop at the edge of the battlefields. It continued throughout their lives as they came home and got down to the work of building a better world, one family and one community at a time. The battlefields had shaped these young lives, turning them into disciplined men who would become the leaders of a post war world that would shape the lives of countless million others.

I was fortunate to have spent my entire life knowing some of these heroes. I have watched them, I have worked with them, and I have grown up with them. They are the men whose sacrificial service helped to preserve the many freedoms that my generation and I enjoy.

The Webster Dictionary defines a hero as, “A man noted for courageous acts or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his life” and the men who so gallantly served our country during the World War II years qualify beyond all question and without exception.

They sacrificed the best years of their youth. They left sleepy, isolated places like Walnut, Illinois only to wind up in places they had never before heard of, places like Normandy, Bastogne, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Sicily. These places, as well as countless others, would soon be indelibly etched in their minds, their memories, and even in their nightly nightmares.They would leave their homes little more than boys, but would come back battle hardened men. They would celebrate their ascension to manhood under horrible and gruesome baptisms of fire. They would watch their comrades and best friends die on the field of battle. They would witness things that no human beings should ever have to witness or be party to.

The fortunate ones would return to resume their simple lives, but they would return as men changed for life.

What follows, then, is a tribute to their sacrifice as demonstrated by just a few from among the many and one in particular. They are not household names other than in their own household. Most spent the remainder of their life building and shaping the wonderful small Illinois community I grew up in. Some influenced my life from afar in remarkable other ways. They are as different as different can be from one another yet they all shared the common experience World War II brought. They all—in one way or another—had a hand in shaping my life.

It is my hope that these stories will serve in some small way as a reminder that heroism can not--and should not--be measured by one’s talents or abilities, by one’s success in accumulating or generating wealth, or by one’s athletic prowess.

The standard by which we define heroism is instead included in these pages. It is a standard set by one ordinary man in an army of many ordinary men who did extraordinary things.

It is the story of “Ordinary Heroes”.


 

HOME

Walnut, Illinois is no extraordinary place. A small town by anyone’s standards, it sits quietly amidst the farmland of Northern Illinois. Like all small towns it has its history. Walnut claims writer Don Marquis as her most famous son, through few outside literary circles probably know who Don Marquis is or what he wrote.

The Walnut Creek flows along the south side of the community and it is along this creek that the first settlers laid down roots some 150 years ago. A village grew and prospered from those early, modest roots. At one time, she was a boomtown with trucks rumbling through her all hours day and night, bound for Omaha in the west and Chicago to the east.

Life was simple if not always easy. The folks of Walnut lived a life relatively untouched by the world beyond.

Until December 7, 1941, that is. The “Day of Infamy”, as F.D.F. called it, put the world and communities like Walnut on a collision course. The call went out for volunteers to pick up their arms and defend our nation and Walnut, like hundreds of other towns, answered that call, sending her best and brightest off to the far corners of the world to battle evil.

The boys of Walnut went to war. They did their duty and when it was over, most of them came home. They went from the cornfields to the battlefields and back to the cornfields. They served without hesitation, without fanfare, and without complaining. They did their duty and when that duty was finished they went back home, right back to the life they had left.

As I grew up in the 50s and 60s I did so with little awareness of those times or of the courage and sacrifice of those boys, now pushing middle age. Little was said about the war. Oh, now and then I might catch a smattering of conversation between my dad and one of the many veterans that were part of his daily life as they stepped back in time to share their war remembrances. By and large, however, the horrors and adventures of those years were left unshared, much like Dad’s war souvenirs, tucked away in old, dusty army trunks, only to be brought out on very rare and special occasions.

I experienced these men daily in the town I loved although I didn’t necessarily think of them as heroes. I only knew them as Roy, Arden, Bobby, Wally, and Volley, to name a few. I knew them as businessmen, carpenters, lawyers, grocers and farmers. I knew them as Boy Scout troop masters, Little League coaches, community and church leaders. I knew them as husbands, the dads of my friends, my neighbors and buddies.

Most of all, they were just ordinary men who did an extraordinary duty for their community and nation. They were indeed true heroes. They are my heroes.

The following pages tell the stories of some of these young men, these Walnut boys, the boys of WWII. It tells the story of men whose lives were shaped by a magnificent, historic event unlike any other before or since. It tells the story of men who shaped my life and the war that did so much to shape theirs.

I tell their stories not because they seek or desire recognition or glory—nothing could be further from the truth. I feel compelled to tell their stories because I want my children and grandchildren to know these stories and know that the freedom we hold so dearly comes with an incredible price tag, a price tag these men and millions like them paid.

Simply put, I want them to appreciate my ordinary heroes as I do

Ron Eckberg

My Father's War

During my Father's waning years we spent many hours talking about his experiences during World War II. I recorded some of our conversations and took notes on others. In addition, one summer Dad wrote 12 pages of handwritten notes about his experiences and the people and places that shaped that terrible year of war. What has resulted is a true labor of love. It is my take on a true, humble, mostly unknown hero and the war that shaped his life...and mine.

Click Here to read the essay.

Act of Valor: An Essay

I feel very blessed to live in the greatest country on the face of this earth. That greatness, however, has come with a price. I recently saw the movie Act of Valor which reminded me that the price of freedom is still being paid daily by the faithful men and women who serve our country. I welcome your thoughts on this essay.

Act of Valor: An Essay

Seldom have I watched a movie from start to finish sitting on the edge of my seat. Act of Valor is such a movie. It is rough, to be sure. It earned an R rating for violence and language but the subject matter necessitated both. War, especially the kind of special operations the movie depicts, is not fought at Disney World by Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It is fought by rough and tumble, highly trained, deeply dedicated men and women.

As I watched the movie I was reminded of a scene from another movie, the 1992 film, A Few Good Men. In that movie, Jack Nicholson plays Marine Colonel Jessep, a battle hardened, no nonsense leader on trial for ordering actions that resulted in the death of a marine. In the seminal scene of the movie, the war hardened Colonel responds to the questioning of a young Marine Lawyer and defends his actions.

"Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You?",  he asks.

As he continues he makes a statement that those of us who love our freedom and affluence and privilege would do well to dwell upon.

"We use words like honor, code, loyalty," says Jessep, "We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it."

Jessep concludes his defense with very pointed words directed at his interrogator and to us: "I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way", he says with a glare, "Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post."

As I watched Act of Valor I was aware of a couple of truths.

First, you and I dont have a clue what goes on behind the scenes, in the dark alleys and deepest corners of the world. We dont have the slightest idea what battles are being fought right now, right this minute to keep us under the blanket of freedom that we treasure.

The second truth is this: I dont want to know. I dont want to know the details. Im sure there are things being done to preserve freedom, to protect you and me that would shock us. Act of Valor gives us glimpse but Im sure its just a scratch at the surface.

Ive written before about my fathers service to our country in WWII. He was a member of a small I R platoon. These 8 men laid low during the day then journeyed behind German lines at night, often miles behind the lines. I dont know just what he did. He never spoke much about those missions. I do know his best friend died in his arms one night when the platoon was fired on one mile into German territory.

War is nasty business. Preserving our freedom and protecting us from people in this world who want nothing more than to kill you, me, our children, and our grandchildren requires a level thinking and action most of us are incapable of.

It's ugly work but it must be done.

You may not agree with me. You may believe that wars can be fought and our security and freedom preserved by being nice people and living by all the rules. You may think we should, as some suggested after 9/11 rationally negotiate with irrational people.

Disagree with me. You have that right. It is, of course, a right that those on the wall, those like the Navy Seals, or those like my dad, fought and often died for. It is a right that you enjoy because others were brave enough, willing enough, and determined enough to do the things you might find unpleasant, distasteful, or even detestable.

As for me, Ill try to live with a greater sense of gratitude to those folks on the wall. Ill try to live each day with a grace, purpose, and passion, knowing that those folks have given me the opportunity to do so in a free country.

God bless them all. Period.


Ron Eckberg is a writer, speaker and musician living in Erie, Illinois. Contact Ron at ron@roneckberg.com or visit him on the web at www.roneckberg.com




 

Company of Heroes

Throughout the period of my dads illness and death I had the privilege of communicating with two men my dad served with during WWII, James Renfro and Myron Roker. They spoke with great enthusiasm about their friendship with Dad, their military past and the yearly reunions that brought them together. For reasons unknown to me, my dad never attended his Regimental reunion. I know it wasnt for lack of pridemy dad was intensely proud of his service as a soldier as well as the men he served with. After dad died, I was invited to attend the 2008 reunion of the 324th Infantry Regiment, which I did on September 5th and 6th. (Click in Video screen below to listen to the speech given at the Saturday evening banquet). What follows is more of an essay than a report and I respectfully dedicated it to James, Myron, and the rest of the wonderful men of the 324th, a true company of heroes. (read the essay)

An Ordinary Hero

Like most little boys of my time I saw my dad as my hero. It wasnt for grand deeds done or fortunes accumulated or for any particular skill or talent. He was my hero because he was my dad. Thats just the way it was for little boys.

Later in life I began to hear bits and pieces about the war. I would come to know in time that Dad had indeed fought in World War II, that he had been a soldier. He didnt offer much information so whatever I knew I learned from my mother or simply deduced from the contents of the wooden army trunk that sat in the corner.

As I grew older I would learn more and more. Eventually Dad even started to tell me about some of his experiences. He didnt tell me much because his philosophy was always, If you talk about it, youre bragging. And anyone who knew my Dad knows he was no bragger.

Somewhere along the years I learned about that night, March 11, 1944. On a reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines Dads patrol came under enemy fire. One of his best friends, Joseph Panamas, was hit by machine gun fire and critically wounded. Dad and a second friend, James Renfro, carried the dying Panamas back to American lines. Panamas died 10 minutes after being carried to safety but for their heroic efforts, Dad and Renfro were awarded Bronze Stars.

As a child I believed my Dad to be a hero. The Bronze Star and the stories of that night and others like it only confirmed what my heart and mind already knew.

This page is dedicated to my Dad and to James Renfro and Joseph Panamas and the others men who fought alongside my dad and even died in the process. It is a modest attempt at keeping their memory and the memory of what they did, alive for all to know, understand, and appreciate.




Dad, proudly in uniform

Hero: The Song

For years I had been struggling at the task of trying to write a song for my dad but with no success. I wanted to tell him how proud I was of him and what he had done those many years ago. One summer's day in 2007 my son Jonathan called from Nashville to tell me he had written a song he wanted me to hear. He emailed me the file and, with tears unashamedly streaming down my face I listened for the first time to Hero. I knew what I had not done -- what I, for some reason couldn't do or say -- he had. He nailed it, plain and simple.

Since you've opened this page you are probably listening right now to Hero. Jonathan and I hope you enjoy it but, more than that, we hope it inspires you to remember the wonderful people who sacrificed so much for us. If you like it, go ahead and download it as our gift to you and a livingmemorial to my Dad, the men of the 324th Infantry Regiment, and all the wonderful men and women who fought to preserve our freedom.

God Bless you all,

Ron Eckberg


Hero
Words and music by Jonathan David Eckberg
Copyright 2007 JDE Music


You can almost see his face
Set with just a trace
Knowing not what lies along his tale

Still he ran to add his name
When the first chance he had came
And proudly marched his way on down that trail

Ore the water he would cross
With an innocence soon lost
Hed witness more than any eye should see

But when that moment did arrive
All the courage penned inside
Was bursting forth to break the hero free

He said, I know you dont understand,
I did no more than any other man.
He said, I know you cant understand,
I did no more than any other man


From the farm he called his home
To this soil not his own
He made his way through the countryside of war

When duty called to choice
He answered strong in voice
With endeavors that could never ask for more

He said, I know you dont understand,
I did no more than any other man.
He said, I know you cant understand,
I did no more than any other man


The years they swiftly fade
With a family and a trade
Hed never breathe a word about that day

But thats the way it goes
With heroes, I suppose
They never claim the valor they display

He said, I know you dont understand,
I did no more than any other man.
He said, I know you cant understand,
I did no more than any other man
But youre not any other man.


Produced and recorded by Jonathan David Eckberg, vocal by Ron Eckberg
 

"Hero"