I never met my Uncle Henry. He died before I was born. But, I have heard so many stories about him from the rest of the family, I can recite the facts of his life in my sleep.
During World War 2, three of my mother’s oldest brothers enlisted in the armed forces. Uncle Stanley became a foot soldier. John Hubert and Alfred joined the Air Force.
Their younger bother, Henry Junior, stayed home to help with the farm.
This arrangement made perfect sense to my Grandpa. Who else would help him milk the cows, plow the fields and keep the family fed?
Some folks didn’t see it that way. They shook their heads at a young man milking cows and plowing fields while the rest the world huddled in fox holes and flew B52 bombers over Europe. Shouldn’t he be fighting overseas?
They were wrong. Uncle Junior was just doing his part to keep the family fed. But, emotions ran high and Junior couldn’t stand it any more. So, he filled out his enlistment papers and put them in the mailbox at the end of the road.
Grandpa found them in the mailbox and took them out.
What else was Grandpa supposed to do? Grandma’s heart was already breaking over the three sons she had sent to war. Grandpa didn’t think she could stand to say goodbye to one more son.
But, Junior did not give up.
He put his papers in the mail box again and again. One day Grandpa left the papers alone. Who was he to stop a young man so determined to fight for his country?
Junior enlisted toward the very end of the war. Barely 18 years old, he shipped overseas. Shortly thereafter, he fought in the fiercest battle between German and U.S. forces during the war.
Before they left for battle, the military gave the solders an opportunity to make a recording for the folks back home. My uncle and a few other soldiers sang a song together. Some recruits sent messages and prayers to their families.
After the Battle of the Huertgen forest, the bodies of young men lay like broken toys in tree branches and along the forest floor. The U.S. suffered at least 33,000 casualties, the Germans 28,000. A ripple effect of grief from so many dead and wounded made it’s way to a small Illinois town.
I’ve been told that on a snowy winter’s eve, Grandma saw the red light of a taxi cab coming down the driveway. She knew that taxis only came to farmhouses for one reason. Grandma started to wail and wring her hands before the driver came to the door.
The taxi cab driver cried as he handed the official military telegram to my grandparents.
Henry was gone.
I can’t even begin to imagine what Grandma and Grandpa felt when they received his dog tags in the mail. My uncle Henry’s blood still stained it’s metal surface, his teeth marks were still pressed to it’s dull and dirty frame.
There was one bright light in the midst of sorrow’s darkness- John Hubert, Stanley and Alfred eventually returned home.
Of that I am glad.
Uncle Hubert, Uncle Al and Uncle Stanley have been role models in my life from the time I was a little girl. Their families were and still are a part of mine.
But, Uncle Henry? All I know of him is what I’ve been told. He never went to college on a G.I. bill. He never married his high school sweetheart or started a family of his own.
Fact – Private Henry Schaal was an ordinary farm boy who traveled to the other side of the world to fight for freedom. He gave his life for his country, he sacrificed his future so that people like you and I could have a future our own.
Now his body lies the Arlington Park cemetery of Rockford Illinois. But, he is not gone.
He is legend in the Schaal family. He will always be.
Private Henry Schaal, today I remember you.