Today and yesterday’s posts are part of a quest to digitally re-create the lost memorial plaque honoring the war dead from Springfield’s former St. Vincent de Paul Lithuanian Catholic Church. Although we have done our best research, finding the actual plaque would allow us to be sure of the names of the men who should never be forgotten. We could also then ask another Catholic Church in Springfield, perhaps the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, where the first Lithuanian Catholic immigrants organized more than 100 years ago, to re-mount the plaque in a sacred place of honor.
I owe my knowledge of the missing memorial plaque to the devoted memory of Maria Fry Race, granddaughter of Agnes Tonila Gooch, who often spoke of her brother Johnny, Maria’s great uncle, who was honored on it. The State Journal-Register newspaper just carried two brief items about our quest for the plaque. See http://www.sj-r.com/breaking/x825429360/Springfield-woman-searches-for-missing-war-plaque and
Springfield Lithuanian-American World War II Deaths
Whereas the Lithuanians who fought for the U.S. in World War I were very recent immigrants, World War II was fought by the U.S.-born sons of our local immigrants. Sixty-eight members of St. Vincent de Paul Lithuanian Catholic Church served their country in World War II, according to the Illinois State Journal-Register.
Corp. John F. Miller (Milleris), 26, of Springfield died in military service in 1944. He was killed in an automobile accident in Savannah Beach, Ga., the Eighth Army Air Force camp where he had been stationed since 1942, when he enlisted and underwent basic training at Seymour Johnson Field, Tenn. Corp. Miller was the brother of Jeanette, Florence, Louise, and twin Peter S. Miller (who was serving as a sergeant with the U.S. Army in Corsica, France when John was killed.) All were children of Sylvester and Mary (Moskers) Miller. Sylvester was born in Lithuania and the family operated Miller’s Market at 121 W. Jefferson St. for many years. John had been employed there before working at the Wright Aeronautical Co. in Dayton, Ohio at the time of his enlistment.
Another of those who died too young was George Sneckus of Springfield, the son of immigrants George and Nelly Sneckus. After graduating from Lanphier High School, he earned the rank of staff sergeant in the US Army Air Force, 100th Bomb Group, and was a 21-year-old “waist gunner” on one of his first missions, on a B-17 Bomber, when he was shot down and killed over Germany only a few weeks before the Normandy invasion. George’s body initially was recovered by the Germans from a farmer’s field and buried in a mass grave.
Many years later, George’s niece Teresa (Sneckus) Gregoire, daughter of George’s older brother Julius, learned of her uncle’s brave sacrifice while fighting to save England from invasion, and of the retrieval and re-burial of his remains in Belgium with many other U.S. aviators. In June 2001, Teresa took her mother, aunt, and two cousins to visit and decorate George’s grave in the Neuville-En-Condroz Permanent Cemetery near Liege, Belgium. Teresa says it was a very moving experience because no one from George’s family had ever visited his grave. Before traveling overseas to honor her uncle, Teresa had located the daughters of the two other men killed on George’s plane so she could also visit and decorate their graves.
John P. (Johnny) Tonila was one of nine children of Lithuanian-born coal miner John George Tonila and Agatha (Mankus) Tonila, who immigrated separately around 1900. A local Golden Gloves boxing champ, Johnny drove a delivery truck for a living. He was not quite 32 and engaged to be married when he gave his life in the Battle of Monte Cassino near Rome, Italy in May 1944, while serving as a cook in a mess tent with the U.S Army 338th Field Artillery Battalion.
A technician fifth grade, Johnny was not drafted—he enlisted in 1939 and served in the Philippines before the U.S. entered World War II in Dec. 1941. Beloved and never forgotten by his many sisters and brothers, Johnny is also remembered in absentia by great-niece Maria Fry Race, whom he never met. Maria believes he is honored on St. Vincent de Paul’s missing “war dead” plaque.
Steven E. Buckus, 22, of 1403 Osbourne, Springfield, a private first class in the U.S. Army who had fought in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany, was reported MIA in Germany on April 8, 1945, in the closing days of the war in Europe. His remains were not recovered and returned to his mother, Mildred Veronica (Peleckis) Buckus, for burial in Calvary Cemetery, until January 1949.
Six months prior to enlisting in the fall of 1942, Stephen spent two weeks in the hospital as the result of an auto accident in which he was a passenger. He had been employed by the Cudahy Packing Co. and had five sisters. His sister Helen Sullivan was informed her husband Henry had been killed in Belgium just a few months before the family was informed about Stephen.
John Z. Urbis of Riverton, a technical sergeant with the U.S. Army, is buried in the Cambridge Permanent Cemetery in Cambridge, England. An aerial engineer on a “Flying Fortress,” John was shot down over Hamburg, Germany in 1943. His parents, John and Anna Zebrawskie Urbis of Riverton, received notice of his death on August 20, 1943, according to accounts in the Illinois State Journal.
John, Jr. had been a bookkeeper for eight years at Yelton-Weaver Supply Co. when he enlisted in December 1941. Posthumously, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the American Legion Gold Star. Prior to his death, he had been cited for “extraordinary achievement in bagging three enemy planes” and received the air medal with three oak leaf clusters. He was Riverton’s first casualty of the war. He was an only son, with one sister: Helen Shattuck Callan.
Veterans Not Killed in Action
Frank I. Makarauskas of Springfield was the U.S.-born son of immigrants Stanley and Agnes Makarauskas and the much younger brother of Lithuanian-born Michael and John (Makarauskas) Mack, Springfield’s self-made McDonald’s restaurant mogul. Frank’s widow Dorothy (Roth) Makarauskas, formerly of Springfield, reports that Frank was drafted into the U.S. Air Force right after he graduated from Feitshans High School in 1943 at age 18. Due to his lengthy training to learn to navigate a B-24 bomber, World War II was over before Frank saw combat. But that training changed his life. After the war, Frank earned an electrical engineering degree at Michigan State University on the G.I. Bill, becoming the first in his family to attend college. He later worked as an engineer for Central Illinois Power Co. in Mattoon and Marion, and for the Michigan Department of Commerce in Lansing.
William J. Urban of Springfield served in the U.S. Navy. (Photo courtesy of granddaughter Debbie Davis Ritter.)
Stanley J. Yanor of Springfield was the son of a Lithuanian immigrant who worked at the coal mine at the corner of Chatham Road and W. Washington St. After attending Du Buois Grade School and Springfield High School, Stanley enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as a sergeant in the famous Battle of the Bulge. Later, Stanley’s Lithuanian language skills gave him a role as a translator after the Allies invaded Germany, where tens of thousands of Lithuanian refugees had fled as the Red Army reached their country in the summer of 1944. After the war, Stanley owned an insurance adjusting business briefly in Springfield, then in Champaign. (Information from Donald Casper.)
Tony Yezdauski of Springfield served as a sergeant with the U.S. Army HQ BTRY 229 AAA in New Guinea, specifically the island of Morotai, beginning in March 1942. Daughter Marilynn Doherty reports that she was born in September 1942, so did not meet her dad until she was almost four years old. Tony participated in the Asiatic Pacific Theatre Campaign, and made the most of his time off, according to Marilynn, who says Tony fished and shared his catch with other soldiers, and came home with many beautiful shells.
Anton P. Casper of Sangamon County, born in 1910, was a bus or truck driver when he enlisted in August 1941. He was a private with the Army’s Field Artillery.
William J. Casper of Sangamon County was born in 1921. He enlisted as a private in the Army Air Corps in July 1941.
Thomas J. Kasper of Sangamon County was born in 1909. He was married and a meat-cutter by trade when he enlisted as a U.S. Army warrant officer (private) in December 1942.
John Nevada (Nevardoskus) served as a U.S. Army ski trooper in Italy during WWII.
Following is a list of many Sangamon County Lithuanian-Americans who served in World War II, based on painstaking research of public records by Tim Race of Elmhurst, Ill., as well as submissions from descendants and other sources. Those who lost their lives are in bold.
Leo Ambrose, Frank L. Arnish, William J. Augustitis (Army, Bronze Star), Edward J. Babeckis, Joseph J Babeckis, Clement J. Banaitis, Veto (Vytautas) F. Banaitis (Army), Adam Bender, Anthony P. Bernotas (Army), Bernice Bernotas Stephens, Vetout (Vytautas) C. Bernotas, William V. Blazis, John F. Brazitis, Walter Brazitis, Stephen E. Buckus, Anton P. Casper, William J. Casper, John Chenski, Edward C. Chernis, Joseph J. Chernis, Alfred F. Cizauskas, Broneslaw Dedinas, Domenick Detrubis, John G. Dombroski, Charles Dumbris, Florie J. Evinsky, Joseph J. Evinsky, Charles J. Galman, Peter Gregalunas, John Grigiski, Frank W. Grinn (Army–Asiatic-Pacific Medal with two bronze stars), Frank Gudausky (Navy), Charles Gurgens (Marines), Thomas J. Kasper, William Kavirts, Joseph P. Kellus, Stanley Klickna, William Klutnick, John Klutnick, Al Klutnick, Barney J. Kurlytis, John Kutselas, Albert T. Kwedar (flight surgeon, Army Air Force), Thaddeus Lamsargis, Joseph J. Lauduskie, William J. Laukaitis, Frank I. Makarauskas, Edward J. Masus, Victor Matula, Joseph Martinkus, John W. (Guoga) McCaskey, Thomas L. Micklus, William J. Micklus, Walter J. Mikelonis, Corp. John Miller (Milleris), Peter S. Miller (Army), William D. L. Morris, Joseph R. Morris, John T. Nevada (Nevardoskus–Nevidauski)–Army 10th Mountain Division, Purple Heart; Frank Pakutinsky (Pakutinskas), George A. Patkus (Army), Ralph M. Patkus (Navy), Frank W. Pupkis (leader of the UMW local), Tony Rachkus, George A. Rackauskas, Jack R. Relzda, Joseph J. Repske, George E. Rudis, Stanley O. Senalik (Army, two bronze starts), George Rudis, John F. Rumsas, John Edward Schmidt (Navy–his mother was a Blaskie-Novick), Alban C. Shadis, Frank Shadis, William J. Shaudis, Felix Shimkus (four battle stars, WW II and Korea), Frank S. Shimkus, John D. Shimkus, Joseph J Shimkus, Stanley Shimkus (U.S. Marine, owner of Stanley Supply and Stanley’s Plumbing and Heating for 26 years) William C. Shimkus, Anthony G Sirtout, George Sneckus, Julius Sneckus, Anthony Sockol, Edward J. Stanks, Dominick J. Stankus (Army), Anthony P. Stockus, Charles J. Stockus, Martin Stockus, Frank J. Surgis, Albert J. Swinkunas, William J. Tater, Adolph W. Tisckos (Navy), Charles G. Tisckos (Navy), Martin Tisckos (Army), John P. Tonila, William J. Urban, John Z. Urbis, Anthony F. Usalus, Joseph J. Usalis, Joseph P. Welch (Wilcauskas)–Navy, George J. Wisnosky (Army), Joseph Yacubasky (Yates), Walter Yakus, Joseph Yamont (Jomantas), Joseph W. Yanor, Stanley Yanor, Stanley Yuscius (Army), Tony Yuscius (b. 1923, served with the Army in the Middle Eastern theater and earned three bronze service stars), Anthony J. Yuskavich, John P. Yuskavich.
Note: Records discovered by Genealogics show that 62-year-old coal miner Frank Meszeikis, who lived on South Walnut St., registered for the World War II draft. A resident of Springfield for 45 years and member of Progressive Mine Workers of America Local 63, Frank was crushed by a roof fall in Panther Creek No. 5, Dec. 23, 1947.