Four World War II veterans to receive French Legion of Honor

Published 9:24 am Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Niles Daily Star

Inside the Niles District Library, live the voices of countless stories, real and imagined.
Along stacked shelves for readers of all ages are the measures of so many lives including a proverbial treasure trove of historical fact – be in published non-fiction books, archived periodicals or microfilm.

On Thursday, July 30, the library will host a very special event, highlighting a piece of America’s history and the history of some very important local lives.

That is when Jean-Baptiste de Boissiere, consul general of France in Chicago will make the trip to Niles to present four area World War II veterans with the esteemed French Legion of Honor, “for their extraordinary bravery in liberating France during World War II.”
“We are just bursting with pride,” said the library’s children’s librarian Darlene Jackson. Jackson’s husband, Robert is one of the honorees.

Through oral histories of soldiers at war, the perspective of soldiers who can relate through their common experiences, the ‘band of brothers’ is evident. But for the family members and relatives of the men and women of the United States military, there is also shared emotion and experience.

And to hear Jackson tell it, on Thursday, that shared emotion will be resounding pride.

“This is so incredible,” she said.

She described each of the honorees, including her husband as “living history books. They have a story to tell… They have lived the history.

“And if we do not honor them,” Jackson continued, if their stories are not heard should America’s veterans choose to tell them, “they will be lost forever.”

Robert, of Buchanan, enlisted in in April of 1943 and served as a rifleman in the 101st Infantry Regiment of the 26th Infantry Division. He would participate in campaigns overseas in Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland and Central Europe and has been awarded with the combat infantry badge, the good conduct ribbon, the World War II victory medal and the European, African, Middle Easter theater ribbon with four bronze battle star.

He is being honored alongside Glen C. Edquist of Niles. It was in February of 1943 when he enlisted as a scout sergeant in the 156th Artillery regiment.  Awarded the purple heart medal, bronze star medal, European, African and Middle Eastern theater ribbon with three bronze battle stars, Edquist served in campaigns in Northern France, Rhineland and Central Europe.

Also being honored at Thursday’s ceremony, Sherman E. Strasser of St. Joseph. Strasser, enlisting in December of the same year as Jackson and Edquist, participated in campaigns in Ardennes and Rhineland as a soldier in the 291st Artillery Division of the 75th Infantry Division. He was also awarded the prestigious purple heart medal, bronze star medal, good conduct medal and the European, African and Middle Eastern Theater medal for his service.

The fourth area honoree is Vaughn R. Rebbeck of Michigan City, Ind. Rebbeck served his country as a rifleman in the 158th Regiment of Combat Engineers – participating in campaigns at the famed Normandy, as well as Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland and Central Europe. Rebbeck is a recipient of the good conduct medal, the World War II victory medal and the European, African and Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon with five bronze battle stars.

At a time when their country has found itself in the midst of war once again, Jackson said it is important to hear the stories and recognize the accomplishments of these veterans, so many of them being lost each and every day.

“It’s important in every generation,” she said. “If we don’t figure out how to live with each other in peace, we will continue,” to seek out violence as a solution.

Jackson and her family are no strangers to the constant realities of war. Her son-in-law has participated in three tours to Iraq and could face more, she said.

“We are the people who see it,” she added. “Not the politicians.”

“It will be more difficult,” Jackson said, for the sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters to pass on the stories and the lessons of America’s veterans after they’re gone. “Unless they have a passion,” she said.

But even those memories, those stories may not be as resonant.

For now, Jackson, the families of those honorees and fellow veterans will take a moment to reflect on the dedication of service and the actions of so many men and women of the United States military during World War II.

Jackson said in speaking to another honoree, she was told that he was just doing his duty.
“But his eyes were sparkling,” she said. “The world needed them and they stepped up.”