The other day I found myself standing in front of the Boone County War Memorial in downtown Harrison. As I read the names of those who died in service to their country, I wondered who they were. What were their hopes and dreams? What made them laugh? I had no idea for all the names were strangers to me — except for one.
He was born in 1924, the son of a blacksmith and lived with his parents and little sister. He walked three miles to and from Harrison High which was located on Cherry Street in those days. As a student he excelled in agriculture and was a proud member of the Future Farmers of America. When not studying or doing chores, he loved fishing and swimming with his buddies in Crooked Creek and worked at the Lyric Theater. His future seemed very bright, but then came the infamous day that changed everything: December 7, 1941.
Immediately upon graduating high school in 1943, this aspiring farmer joined the Navy. He must have been pretty excited traveling to San Diego for basic training. As the 18-year-old boarded a bus that would take him west, he probably glanced out the window at his parents and little sister, their faces filled with pride and tears. Most likely in his wallet was a picture of a high school sweetheart who promised to write and wait impatiently for his return.
He excelled in basic training and became a corpsman. Looking out in wonderment at the Pacific Ocean for the first time, he couldn’t possibly imagine that one day a Navy guided missile frigate named in his honor would sail these waters. Nor did he know that beyond the horizon some 6,000 miles west was a tiny, obscure island where his destiny awaited.
On March 3, 1945, this Harrison High graduate found himself on that tiny, obscure island under intense enemy fire. In the past few days he had already tended to over a hundred wounded Marines when suddenly a grenade exploded nearby injuring a friend. Exposing himself once again to enemy fire, he dragged his buddy into a depression and covered him with his body. While doing so, he was struck in the abdomen and groin three times by rifle fire. Bleeding profusely and in great pain, he finished taking care of his buddy before attempting to bandage his own wounds. Then he heard another wounded Marine cry out for help and rushed to his aid. Shortly after tending to him, a sniper bullet put an end to the dreams and life of this son of a blacksmith.
Not far away was a hill called Mount Suribachi where Marines would soon be raising an American flag declaring victory on this tiny, obscure island. Thanks to this Future Farmer of America, his friend and over a hundred other Marines survived the Battle of Iwo Jima and returned home to their loved ones. He remained, buried at the base of this hill along with 6,800 of his band of brothers.
A year later, Jack William’s parents, Bill and Daughty, were presented their son’s Medal of Honor at the house he grew up in at 420 North 2nd Street in Harrison. President Truman had invited them to the White House for the ceremony, but they chose to have it in their home near family and friends.
I would guess that Jack’s story isn’t that much different from all the other names etched on the War Memorial. All were sons of Boone County and probably loved fishing and swimming in Crooked Creek. All had big dreams. All answered their country’s call. All paid the ultimate price. Let us never forget who they were and what they did.
Matt Russell is a USMC Vietnam combat veteran and Commander of the Boone County DAV. The opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not represent the position of this newspaper, the Disabled American Veterans or any other organization.