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 havewatched 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”.