IN?HONOR… Saluting area war veterans

“No One Forgets,” copyright 2011 by George Burns III and Richard Titus, is a book which compiles information from third party sources about fallen Chautauqua County World War II heroes. Burns and Titus put this book together to honor those soldiers and their families. The book features 91 local veterans who paid the ultimate price for our freedom and the freedom of our allies.

The book states that those who serve our country through military service, whether in times of war or of peace, are special people. The military advertises benefits during peacetime like money for college, world travel, the learning of valuable skills and the excitement that being a part of our great military offers. There is nothing wrong with wanting those things, but none of them will matter unless at heart, each military service person has a love for their country and a patriotic desire to take his or her turn defending the rest of us. Those who serve are driven by a compulsion to take a stand, put their lives on hold and then put them on the line to protect something of value for the rest of us. In doing so they must go away, and we are lucky if we see them every one or two years. Sometimes, our service members go away and we never see them again.

“No One Forgets” tells the stories of the people from our county who served their country. They left their Chautauqua County homes, traveled up or down Routes 60, 5 and 20, and took one last look behind them. They boarded buses and trains, transferred to ships or planes, and were off to do their parts to end tyranny and injustice. The book acknowledges those who served, who were wounded, who were captured and who ultimately lost their lives.

Obtaining all of the information they needed for the book was not easy for Burns and Titus. It took many hours of research and a lot of reaching out to family members and friends of the fallen military personnel. The Memorial Park in Dunkirk kept an accurate list of local city veterans, and other information came from the Dunkirk Historical Society, the Buffalo News, the War and Naval Departments and from community member James Brill.

Titus was born Sept. 4, 1939, a few days after Germany invaded Poland. By the time he was five, he was aware of men in uniform around him leaving for Europe. He remembers going to the movies and seeing news events from the past week, announced in the rich voice of Lowell Thomas. Sitting on his father’s lap, he listened intently to the latest war information and songs about the war on their radio in their living room. He knew even at that young age that everyone in his neighborhood was involved in the war effort in one way or another; their family members had enlisted, they grew Victory Gardens, they rationed their necessities or collected scrap metal. This war was everyone’s war.

Titus recalls 1998, when Tom Brokaw released his book “The Greatest Generation.” He started thinking about who from the Dunkirk area had sacrificed their lives in World War II, what their names were and how they met their ends. His dedication then took him to Dunkirk’s Memorial Park. Reading the names on the plaque at the entrance, he had his starting point. He began to research them, going from there to the internet, to microfilm at the library and to family members who could shed some light on the loved ones they lost in the war.

His project yielded results. He felt intrinsically rewarded knowing that he was telling the stories of so many brave servicemen. Titus was able to obtain photos of 89 heroes, putting proud faces to the names on his list. Many times along the way, people asked him what he planned to do with all of his information. Titus didn’t really know himself, until Memorial Day 2010, when he met Burns. The two men decided to work together to honor these people and to ensure that their sacrifices were remembered.

Burns was born in Dunkirk. In their book, Burns describes the many times his parents brought him to Memorial Day services, how much he enjoyed the parades as a young boy. Then, as he got older, the significance of the services set in. He heard the names of friends’ older brothers, of neighbors’ husbands, names he knew from his community. Burns tells the story of how the weight of this tugged at him throughout his years, and how he eventually traveled to Hawaii to get help locating the final resting places of some of Dunkirk’s finest heroes.

I myself have had the honor of telling the stories of more than 160 local heroes. I had the luxury many times of being able to sit down with these veterans, talking to them face-to-face and hearing their stories in their own voices. At times, I sat with them for hours, letting myself get carried away with them into their memories. I felt like I could see those first train rides to basic training, the slow floating journeys across the Atlantic to face God knows what on the other side. Art Lamb, a particularly memorable veteran, laughed through his interview and told Marine Corps jokes. He also told me about the convoys, and how that duty was one of the most dangerous a sailor could undertake. The 1st won the war, yet not one movie has been made about 1st sailors.

And I’ll never forget the night I spent with Joe Siracuse, a Dunkirk paratrooper. After only a few minutes of hearing his story, I felt like I was there in the plane with him, jumping into the air over France. Looking into Siracuse’s eyes, I could tell that even at 80 years old, he wouldn’t hesitate to jump out of a plane again if it meant saving his country or his family. We lost him only a few months after I met him.

In another interview with Leola (Vandevelde) Coniglio I was able to visualize the uniforms the Japanese generals wore while being tried for war crimes. I could go on for hours, each veteran’s story drawing me deeper and deeper into the past, deeper and deeper into the action of WWII, becoming immersed in the smoke and the sound of gunshots and the yells of brave soldiers and desperate men.

Living World War II veterans and the families of all World War II veterans have seen the decades fly by. Over six have passed now, and if a person wants to hear stories from the war, he or she has to go to the local VA or nursing home to find someone who can tell them. The Veterans Administration states that each day, we lose 1,009 World War II veterans. Our Korean War veterans are leaving us at a rate of 625 per day. We lose 192 Vietnam veterans per day. With each veteran who passes on, we also lose a little bit of the history that our country is built upon.

Thank you, Titus and Burns. Your love and dedication and dogged effort to bring grace, respect and honor to the names of these fine men. Your book memorializes the lives and sacrifices these servicemen made for their country and for us. I hope you continue your labor of love; I know how hard it is to assemble the drifting scraps of history into a cohesive story. I find it harder and harder to locate veterans myself, but for me too, this is a labor of love. These heroes need a voice, and if there are stories to tell, we will tell them. Again and again, thank you.

In closing, I want readers to know that most of the information here was derived from “No One Forgets.” This is a wonderful book that tells the stories of more than 90 Dunkirk-area veterans who lost their lives and their future hopes and dreams in countries far from our corner of the world. “No One Forgets” includes these men’s ranks, stations, awards and honors, who they were survived by and their military service stories.

Copies of this book are available for purchase at the Dunkirk Lighthouse and Veterans’ Park Museum.