I am quite proud and feel privileged to be invited to be the speaker here today as the Veterans Memorial is dedicated. This is an impressive tribute to all who have served. St. Elmo is to be commended for coming together as a community to make this happen.
I am also humbled to be asked to speak here today. Humbled because I have never served in the military, never worn the uniform. My father, Stanley Schwarm, was a World War II veteran and a prisoner of war in Germany. I am quite proud of his service.
I think it is fitting that those who have served be recognized. Now I would ask that every man and woman who has served their country in the military and worn the military uniform for our great nation to stand and receive the thanks from those here. May God bless you.
I think it is also fitting that another group be recognized and thanked. As we meet here today, young Americans are risking their lives in libertys defense in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are the latest link in a chain of sacrifice as old as America itself.
Today is a day of remembrance and celebration. On this weekend, the graves will be visited and decorated with flowers and flags.
As we honor those who have served in the armed forces, there are three topics that I want to address: Commitment Comradery-Change.
If you look to the Veterans Memorial you will note that the greatest number of names for any was for the Second World War. This was a war that touched nearly every household. The generation that endured this has been referred to as the Greatest Generation.
Former President John F Kennedy, a hero in the South Pacific during WW II spoke of this generation of Americans and said of them that they were willing to pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.
Every family has stories to tell of those years, including my own, with five WW II veterans in it. My topics of commitment, comradery and change can be exemplified by some stories from those days. These are my stories, but these could just as easily be your stories. Thanks for asking me to make this talk; by asking you have put me on this journey of reflection. I encourage each of you to reflect.
My father, Stanley Schwarm, was a prisoner of war in Germany. He never spoke of his experience. As a little boy, I finally quit asking about being a POW as my questions went unanswered by him. My mother, Edith Donaldson Schwarm had little to say either. All the letters she received from my father during the war, except a couple, she burned shortly after the war as she wanted to forget all those bad memories.
These stories I want to relate to you are from newspaper clippings, entries in my sisters baby book and letters that my Dad wrote to his parents by V-mail. My literary son, Alex, compiled these letters for a writing class at Northwestern in a booklet entitled As Ever, Stan, which is how he closed this letters. As a senior, Alex is going to make a film out of one of these stories next year.
My parents were married in August 1942. Two weeks later, Stan was inducted into the Army together with 35 other men from Fayette County. A clipping from the Vandalia Leader had their picture and each of their names under the heading Fayette County Men Off to Service. They served out a commitment to their country but they were off to serve their communities.
They were serving out of a commitment to Brownstown, Loogootee, St Elmo, Vandalia or wherever they were from. They were serving out of commitment to their families, friends and neighbors. That feeling of commitment is reciprocated today as each community remembers and memorializes its own.
By the time of their second wedding anniversary, August 1944, D-Day had occurred. Stan was a sergeant in the Army and awaiting transport to Europe. He had been made a medic in the Army, probably because he was old, 30 years old, and had a minor in chemistry from the University of Illinois and had given a lot of shots- to cows.
My Mom, Edith, who came from a big family in Shobonier had five living brothers, four were in the service.
Lowell her older brother a sergeant in the Army stationed in London with the Military Postal Service.
Her younger brother Jerome was a master sergeant in the infantry somewhere in France.
Her little brother William Billy, 20 years old, had not been a part of the invasion at Normandy but was in the thick of things in the Allies march across France.
Her baby brother, Vic, 18, had just joined the Navy after graduating from high school a few months earlier.
Also in August of 1944, my mother found out one other important thing she was pregnant and due in March 1945.
The first bad news came to my Mom on August 21, 1944 at 11:10 am. Her parents received a telegram from the U.S. Army informing them that PFC Billy Donaldson was killed in action July 31,1944 in France. Her little brother was only 20 and had been in France 19 days.
In the early 90s, before I became a judge, a friend of my Moms from Shobonier came by my law office one day. She said that yesterday there was a car that pulled up to her house with Florida plates. An older man got out, came to the door and said he wanted to know where Fred Donaldson, Billy Donaldsons parents had lived. She pointed in out, the house on the end of the street. He said he had been Billys buddy, his best buddy in the Army. Billy had talked a lot about home, Shobonier what a great place it was. He said he wanted to visit the town Billy was from before he died, as he had been next to Billy when he was shot and killed in action. Nearly 50 years later, he was thinking of his Army buddy.
Comradery-that strong kinship that binds men together in mind, heart and spirit. In my life I have been a part of athletic teams, a fraternity in college and other fraternal organizations, but none matches the comradery of the service. In the military, you depend on the other guy with your life. That same type of comradery binds the veterans together today with the VFW, the American Legion and other service organizations.
Back to 1944. My Dad shipped out for Europe on a big transport boat that left New York. In a humorous letter to his parents dated October 28, 1944 he wrote about his voyage over. How he became sick and how most everyone became sick. He wrote:
We arrived safely and I think it is authentic to say we arrived in (censored, England).
I suppose you will want to know all about the trip so I will relate it as best I can without giving away any information of value. When we left the states we had numbers put on our helmets so they could easily keep track of us and keep us in line. We got to the dock just a little after dark and while waiting to go up the gangplank the Red Cross was holding out candy bars, coffee and doughnuts. The outfit seemed to be in the best of spirits they were all joking and having a laugh about what was about to take place. After standing there watching others go up the plank it finally came our turn. So we worked our way into our pack, got that duffle bag on our shoulder and started toward the boat, before we got to the gangplank we were handed a card assigning us to our station of the boat and we checked off by the gateman then we were officially on our way, and our pay was increased 20% after we got on the boat. That night we went to bed and slept well. The next morning when we woke up, and we were awakened by our announcement over the sound system that has been going about every fifteen minutes ever since. It is a sound system that covers the entire boat and it seems to me they use it too much. Well, after having breakfast the boat started moving and we could see that we were leaving the big city. Yes the U.S.A. and all that goes with it was to be left behind. The boat was going pretty smooth and I thought I was all set for a nice big voyage. However, it wasnt long until I began to feel dizzy and the boat was rocking more and more. The water was getting rougher as we got out on the ocean and I was getting dizzier. I knew the only thing for me to do was lay down. I went to my bunk and laid down and stayed there until that afternoon, by that time I had to go to the toilet and up it came and out it went. I went back to the bunk, laid down felt pretty good. Now, by this time we were getting out on high sea and this thing was really tossing. I didnt go down for supper because I knew it was no use. I wasnt hungry and it wouldnt stay down. Well, the next day was the same way. I didnt want to eat and what I did eat didnt want to stay with me. The entire load of passengers was very much the same way. You could see guys throwing up in the trash cans, the toilets and all up and down the aisles. Those first two days I tried everything imaginable to keep my head and stomach quiet. I thought about cows standing in the barn lot. I tried to concentrate on filling silo and everything else, but yet the boat rocked and so did my head and stomach. Now by the third day, I was getting straightened up so I could eat a little and keep it down, but I was still dizzy and had a headache, which I kept for the remainder of the trip.
We are on a big boat and are really loaded close. In fact, we were so close and working facilities were so limited that there was an aroma on the boat that didnt smell like roses.
I might add a word about chow. We had English cooks and if the women cook like the men, I can be thankful I didnt marry one. To be exact, it was the worst chow I have ever tried to eat.
About the second or third day we had mail call on the boat, which had been picked up just before we left the harbor. In this mail I got a couple letters from Edith. They were every welcome at a time like this.
I have never written back, so if you see her soon, let her read this letter as I may not have time to write her soon.
Hope you have the silo filled and all is going well with you.
A V-mail dated December 6, 1944 and postmarked December 30, 1944 to his parents said he was safe and sound in the country of France. He signed off saying Hope this finds you all OK, as this leaves me in No. 1 shape. This was the last word they would hear from him in some time.
Latter they would learn that his infantry regiment, the 422nd, a part of the 106th Division, was near the German-Belgium border in the Ardennes Forest. On December 14, 1944 the Germans started their last major offensive of the war, in the Ardennes Forest-this would be known as the Battle of the Bulge.Nothing was heard from Stan, but a western union telegram was received on January 10, 1945:
EDWIN A SCHWARM
ROUTE ONE LOOGOOTEE ILL VIA ST ELMO ILL=
THE SECRETARY OF WAR DESIRES ME TO EXPRESS HIS DEEP REGRET THAT YOUR SON TECHNICIAN FOURTH GRADE STANLEY E SCHWARM HAS BEEN REPORTED MISSING IN ACTION SINCE SIXTEEN DECEMBER IN GERMANY IF FURTHER DETAILS OR OTHER INFORMATION ARE RECEIVED YOU WILL BE PROMPTLY NOTIFIED=
DUNLOP ACTING THE ADJUTANT GENERAL
All they knew was that he was missing in action, then on January 18, 1945 an AP story from the war department in Washington reported that the 106th Division suffered 8663 casualties, more than one half its strength, in its gallant stand against the Germans in the Ardennes Forest. It suffered 416 killed, 1246 wounded and 7001 missing.
The winter drug on. Edith was 7 months pregnant. January turned into February. February into March. Still no word from Stan. My sister Pat was born March 14.
Finally, a German post card dated January 18, 1945 and received April 12 by my Mom, it said:
Dearest Edith: The Lord was with me. Our prayers were answered. I came through without a scratch. I am well and located in a good camp. Contact the local Red Cross in regard to sending packages and cigarettes. I am praying and dreaming about you and Jr. and our life in the future. Give my love to all the folks and my dearest love goes to you.
Two weeks later, April 27 a telegram was received that said, Mrs. Stanley Schwarm am free healthy happy. Answer by return wire. Will be home soon I hope. Love. Stanley Schwarm.
In my sister Patsys baby book were the post card, the telegram and this inscription written by my mother:
One of your happiest days was when we received a card from your Daddy that he was a German prisoner and still alive. It was our first word from him since December 14 and it came April 12. Mother had you in her arms and did a little bit of everything with you. Kissed you, cried, laughed, walked the floor and whatnot! On April 27 we received a telegram from him that he was liberated. Was I happy then! You were sure of a Daddy then.
He arrived home on June 16. I dressed you up to perfection and we went to meet him at Vandalia, but even though you stayed awake we missed him as I didnt know him as he had infantry boots on. We came to Grandpa Schwarms and finally Daddy came. He took hold of your chest and shook you to wake you and said, Wake up, your Pappy is home! He gave you a good inspection and Honey, your first smile couldnt help but win his heart. You were 3 months old before he saw you.
The first letter received from Stan after he was liberated was one sent to his parents:
It is a great sensation to be writing a letter once again as a free man in a free country like England and being confident that you will get the letter.
I was liberated April 18th by an armed outfit. The Germans had us on the march and I was left behind with a bunch of fellow that couldnt keep up with the march. I flew from Germany to England. I landed here last night. We have had quite a reception at the air base by the Red Cross. I wired Edith last night and wrote her today.
I came through the battle without a scratch. However, I experienced new sensations in hunger, thirst, etc. in the hands of the Germans, but the Lord always seemed to take care. I havent had any news from home since Dec. 1st, so I will appreciate a lot of mail.
Love to all,
From the day he was liberated, April 18 until late May he was hospitalized in England. He suffered from malnutrition. He had lost 50 pounds from 175 to 125 pounds. He suffered from stomach and liver problems and had boils on much of his body. On April 26, he wrote another letter to his parents:
I havent heard from you yet but I suppose I will be hearing in a few days.
I am getting along fine. Get plenty to eat but it is a little too rich for my stomach and I have trouble keeping it in me. We had fried eggs for breakfast and they were very good. We get three good meals per day then at 10 in the morning, four in the afternoon and eight in the evening we get an extra drink of cocoa, milk, and bread and jam or something similar. Just about like home. This is all much better than the soup we were getting from Germany. The last meat I had in my soup from Germany was a horse that we had bought from them for 50 cigarettes. It made good soup too. You can rest assured I plan to eat beefsteak when I get home. Hope this finds you all O.K.
Love to all, Stanley
Stans homecoming was an unusual event. Stan was set to arrive back home in Fayette County on June 16. He notified the family that he would be arriving on the train in Vandalia. Mom dressed up 3-month-old Patsy Lou to perfection and drove her old Plymouth car to the train station and waited in the car. She sat in the car with the baby and watched all of the soldiers get off the train expecting Stan to look like he did when he left because he had written that he had gained weight and was getting fat. She watched the half dozen soldiers get off the train but did not see him and drove back home. While she was driving back he called home and asked for someone to come and pick him up. She had failed to recognize him. He was very thin, sickly, his hair was gray.
Years later Dad admitted to a friend how difficult it was to deal with not being recognized by his wife. He had changed. The war had changed him physically. It had also changed him emotionally and spiritually.
We need to remember that everyone whose name is listed on the memorial had been changed by their service.
It is not an understatement to say of all that have served, about all the names that are listed on the memorial-their lives were interrupted, their futures altered, their dreams were put on hold, while every minute of their youth was burdened with fear, with loss and with uncertainty.
Four years ago, this Memorial Day the National WW II Memorial in Washington, D.C. was dedicated. It is a moving and beautiful memorial that is located between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall. One of the Speakers at that dedication was former Senator Bob Dole, from Kansas, who was permanently disabled from wounds received in WW II. He said at that dedication which I think is most appropriate today-
What we dedicate today is not a memorial to war, rather it is a tribute to the physical and moral courage that makes heroes out of farm boys and city boys and that inspires Americans in every generation to lay down their lives for people they will never meet, for ideals that make life itself worth living.
Today we take a moment to remember all who have served and give a heartfelt thank you and God Bless you. Thank you.