For the past few weeks, we’ve been working up our annual “Remembering Our Veterans” exhibit down at the Little White School Museum here in Oswego.
My compatriot Bob Stekl has been putting together most of the main exhibits, including the Wall of Honor and the exhibit of uniforms and equipment that make the annual event so interesting.
The Wall of Honor consists of photos of veterans and serving military personnel, from World War I to the present day. This year, we’re including a number of vets and serving personnel from our most recent spate of wars, including one youngster, a Marine, who graduated from Oswego High School in 2010, joined the Corps, and then encountered an IED in Afghanistan in 2011 that blew off both his legs and part of his hand.
My job in putting the exhibit together was to do a poster on each of the soldiers, sailors, and airmen killed in action from Oswego, from the Civil War through Vietnam. Fortunately, we’ve had no more KIAs in the wars of the 21st Century, although that seems more due to the incredible advances in medical technology than a lack of our people finding themselves in harm’s way—see the story about the Marine above for verification of that.
From the information we’ve been able to gather (there may be more, and if there are, hopefully someone will point them out to us), three Oswegoland residents were killed in action during the Civil War, one during World War I, five during World War II, and three during Vietnam.
These were young men for the most part, with an average age of 22.4. They ranged from Frank Clauser, 31, (a distant cousin of mine) an engineer-dorsal turret gunner in a B-26 shot down over the Mediterranean during World War II, to 19 year-old Alfred X. Murdock, killed at the Battle of Ezra Church during the Civil War.
In fact, two of our KIAs were killed during at Ezra Church, Murdock (his friends called him Ax), 19, and William “Billy” Pooley, 25. During that same, desperate battle, as Hood’s Confederates tried to break the American line near Atlanta, young Robinson B. Murphy won the Medal of Honor. Just 15 at the time, he guided reinforcements to the far end of the American line held by Company A, 127th Illinois Volunteers, comprised mostly of Oswegoans. Murphy grew up in Oswego with the soldiers in the company and had enlisted as a drummer boy with them. The sights and sounds horror of that day stayed with him the rest of his life.
As Murphy put it in a letter published in the Sept. 7, 1898 Kendall County Record:
“As you all know, the most of the time my position was such that I could look on and see what was being done and oh! how I always turned towards my own regiment, and how it grieved me to see them stricken down either from disease or the rebel bullet. I shall never forget that 28th day of July in front of Atlanta, when “Billy” Lawton came running out of the woods and said “Bob, for God’s sake get us some reinforcements; they are cutting us all to pieces,” and a little later as I rode up near the line with the reinforcements, there I found our comrades, Ax. Murdoch [sic] and “Billy” Pooley, both shot dead; they were our Oswego boys. Do you wonder I was deeply touched and the tears rolled down my face?”
Two of our Civil War dead weren’t even citizens. Billy Pooley was born and raised in England before coming to the U.S. with his family, while William Shoger was born Johann Wilhelm Schoger in Germany. He immigrated with two brothers and three cousins at the age of 13 to help scout for good land for the rest of his family, which came from Germany a couple years later, settling just outside Oswego west of the Fox River. William was killed in action at the Battle of Raymond in 1863, as Gen. Grant tightened the noose around Vicksburg.
During World War I, 21 year-old Archie Lake was killed in action fighting the Germans in France with the U.S. Marines.
We lost five area residents during World War II, three of them in the Air Corps, one in the Navy, and one in the Army. Kay Fugate, 24, a Seaman Second Class, didn’t make it past the first day of the war, dying aboard the USS Nevada during the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor. As noted above, Frank Clauser was shot down along with the rest of his crewmates in fighting over the Mediterranean. Donald A. Johnson, 20, died when his C-87 Liberator Express transport flew into a mountainside while flying over the “Hump.” Paul Ellsworth Zwoyer, 22, was killed near the end of the war when his B-29 Superfortress was shot down during a night raid on Tokyo near the end of the war. None of the three bodies of our three Air Corps dead were ever recovered.
Stuart Parkhurst was killed during his first experience with combat, and just two months to the day after he left New York Harbor in some of the fighting just before the Battle of the Bulge. He and his best friend, Stan Young, had pledged they’d volunteer for the paratroops when they were drafted, but Stuart decided not to. Stan persevered, making several combat jumps in the Pacific Theatre and being on one of the first, if not the first, U.S. planes to land in Japan to take the surrender of the Imperial Japanese Army. Stuart was a sergeant in the headquarters company of the Second Battalion, 345th Infantry Regiment—normally not one of the most dangerous places to be, but on Dec. 17, 1943, the headquarters of 2nd Battalion was raked by tank and machine gun fire, badly wounding several officers and killing Stuart.
In Vietnam, we had three Army casualties. Fred Heriaud, 21, was Kendall County’s first Vietnam casualty, getting killed in the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley Dec. 17, 1965, a battle immortalized by Mel Gibson’s movie, “We Were Young.” Hans Brunner, like William Shoger, another German national who had immigrated to the U.S. shortly before he joined the Army, was killed in action at the age of 24 on March 29, 1968 defending the airfield at Pleiku. And Bobby Rogers, who went to school with me (he was two years younger) was serving in the Army during Operation Iron Mountain when he was killed on March 19, 1968. He was just 21
It’s hard not to wonder what these young men would have accomplished had they not died in the service of their country—in three cases, their adopted country. If you happen to be in the Oswego area this coming weekend, come on over to the Little White School Museum. The exhibit opens Saturday, Nov. 8, at 9 a.m. Hours are Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. It’s free and it honors those who tried their best to make the nation and the world a better place.