OVER THE PAST 18 MONTHS I've been working on a book about WWII and have come to appreciate to a greater degree than ever before the evil that is present in our world, the cost of overcoming it, and the greatness of the American spirit, which so often has come to the rescue of people who could not or would not help themselves. Young American boys who enlisted in the military to travel halfway across the globe to fight and die in places they had never heard of, for people they had never met, for principles they could barely articulate, yet deep in their hearts they knew it was the right thing to do and they worked and suffered and died with courage and commitment.
It's a hoary cliché to say "Freedom isn't free,” but of the course it is true. Last week I stood in a cemetery in Pocatello, ID and looked down at the weathered granite slab marking the resting place of a boy born in 1925 who died (along with 1,800 other boys) in 1944 taking an obscure island in the South Pacific with the 1st Marines, an island that in the end served no tactical purpose except as a momentary stepping stone toward Japan. Only one person still alive knew him personally. His was the first grave in this section of the cemetery; all others surrounding his lonely interment were dug decades later. The marker is small, simple, and rapidly deteriorating. It has been exposed to the elements for almost 70 years.
I never knew the boy and know very little about his life except he loved to ride his Indian motorcycle and ran away from home a few times as a teenager. He loved my aunt but was killed before they were to be married. He was a good-looking boy who was shot by a sniper while carrying messages between Marine units on 16 September 1944 on the island of Peleliu in the Palau chain 400 miles east of the Philippines.
I wept at the loss of his young, hopeful life and many things he would never get to do: get married, father children, or live past the war that killed him. What he did in just two short years of his young life was to save the world, and many decades later, touch the life of a complete stranger and bring powerfully to that stranger's heart the cost of freedom and the debt of gratitude we all owe such men. He died while still a boy but to me he is a towering hero of a man and I will never utter the name of Armiger Chauncey Rogers again without fighting back tears of gratitude.
Happy Fourth of July, Chauncey. Rest in peace and honor.