My dad, both of my uncles and my grandmother’s nephew served in the Armed Forces during the 20th century.

My dad enlisted in the Army in July 1917 and served in France. Though he was involved in heavy fighting, he returned from the war uninjured. When he came back to Chicago, he went to work for the Chicago Tribune, loading newspapers onto the delivery trucks. Colonel McCormick, the owner and publisher of the paper, favored veterans, so my dad was promoted often over the years until he became circulation manager.

Both of my uncles were drafted into the Army in 1942. My uncle Hubert was in the Army Air Force. He was first sent to India and then to the Pacific. My grandmother had a picture of him standing in front of the Enola Gay on Tinian. Although Hubert did not sustain any injuries, he did contract malaria. This disease plagued him for many years after the war, so he kept quinine handy to quell the malarial attacks.

When he returned from service, he worked as a financial analyst, but he left this position after a few years and got a job as a buyer with the Chicago Board of Education where he remained until he retired. He lived with us until 1951 when he married and moved to Rogers Park.

My uncle Gene served in Europe. His outfit was one of the first to cross into Germany in the spring of 1945. Fortunately, he, too, came home uninjured and returned to his pre-war job as an industrial engineer. He remained in this position and lived with us until his death in 1961.

My grandmother’s nephew, Ed Patterson, served as a gunnery officer on a battleship in the Pacific. He was twice wounded, but the wounds left no permanent damage. Before the war, Ed graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a major in English. When he was discharged from the Navy in late 1945, he re-enrolled in Washington U and received a master’s degree in English.

After he graduated, he came to Chicago and was hired as an English teacher at Taft High School. Ed was a bachelor and lived in an apartment on Marion Street in Oak Park. He would come to our house every Sunday for supper. He had a remarkable resemblance to the actor Robert Stack, and he often bragged of his many girlfriends. Even though my mother told him to bring a lady friend to supper, we never saw one of his girlfriends.

In the early 1950s, he moved to St. Louis where he resumed his teaching career and eventually got married. He would visit us when he came to Chicago for the annual English teachers conference, but we never saw him again after 1963, although he and his wife sent Christmas cards for a number of years.

My mother told me once that war had changed her brothers from happy-go-lucky boys to serious men, and this is how I knew them.

I often asked these veterans to tell me about their war experiences, but what I soon learned was that men who had been in harm’s way rarely, if ever, spoke about their ordeals.

John Stanger is a lifelong resident of Oak Park, a 1957 graduate of OPRF High School, married with three grown children and five grandchildren, and a retired English professor at Elmhurst College. Living two miles from where he grew up, he hasn’t gotten far in 72 years.

Join the discussion on social media!