Your name is Frank Sadowski Jr.
You were born on May 8, 1921. You are the consummate all-American boy, a member of the science club in high school in Chicago, then on to Northwestern University studying to be a physician – following in the footsteps of your father.
You are a cherished member of the all-American family, son of an immigrant physician father who worked his way through medical school and “made something” of himself. You are his name-sake, shown with your father, below and your mother, Harriett, a stay-at-home Mom, peeking out the window in the background.
You have a brother, Bobbie, and a sister, Margie, shown below, who is also attending college, majoring in music. In fact, she’s racing you to see who will graduate first.
You have it all.
December 7, 1941 – a day that lives in infamy in the history of this nation. Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese, drawing the United States into the midst of WWII. Even today, nearly three quarters of a century later, most Americans know the meaning of that date.
Americans were shocked, then enraged and incensed. The next day, war was declared. Patriotism was running at an all-time high. The unexpected attack on Pearl Harbor, sinking American battleships, united Americans decisively, providing a common cause. It was no longer about warfare or politics, but about integrity and honor. Enlistment and recruitment offices were full to the brim, with long lines of patriotic young men proud and determined to fight for and defend America.
It probably pained you not to join the ranks that day to enlist.
On February 16, 1943, over the objections of family members, you feel you have to DO something. WWII is raging. You’re 21 years and 9 months old, barely old enough to buy a beer. Men are needed. Real men enlist! Emotions are running high. Northwestern University, and finishing medical school, can wait. You have a war to fight. For freedom. For liberty. For what is right. For mankind. To help those who are injured. You’re sure with your medical training that you won’t be on the front lines, so it’s a pretty safe bet.
You enlist in the Army.
Your mother sobbed inconsolably. A fortune-teller told her that two of her sons would serve, and only one would return. Now, the first half has come true.
Your first several months are spent in training in several locations: Texas, the University of Chicago which isn’t so bad, then Oregon and California. Christmas 1944 finds you being deployed to Okinawa in the Pacific Theater on a destroyer.
Before you leave San Francisco, you v-mail (victory mail) a Christmas card to your girlfriend because you won’t be able to later.
You also mail a very private letter to your sweetheart, which, for better or worse, didn’t survive for future generations to read. You talk about your dreams for a life together after the war, about your wedding, about your future children. You miss her terribly, an aching that won’t subside. You write her every single day, whether you can mail the letters or not. In fact, you write to her so much that the other guys, “Joes,” as you call them, tease you – but you don’t care. She is your link to sanity, to hope for the future.
On December 9th, 1944 before boarding the ship, you also write a letter to your father, who too is waiting at home for your return. There is no paragraph spacing, because as you’ve said in other letters, writing paper is a scarce and valuable commodity.
This is a sloppy mess but so is everything around here. Never-the-less I’d like to write you a bit. You see I’m becoming quite a prompt son in spite of obstacles. Come on, pat me on the back. I’m a bounder as far as that’s concerned. Of course I’m going to thump you on the back, dad. Don’t look now but you’ve been very generous with us kids. Especially me. Of course ? your my favorite anyway. Maybe it’s because you’ve got the biggest darn heart any man has a right to have. I know now how you’ve spoiled me but I can’t help but love you all the more for it. I guess Margie would call me a weak character and apply polishing my dad again. She’s right but I want to do it anyway, pop. You see, I’ve never told you these things quite right till now so it’s a lot like a confession to me. Of course Mom, sis and Bobbie have been pretty good as a whole, but I apple polish you all one at a time. You, pop, were responsible for a very warm Thanksgiving in my heart. Say, Christmas, is probably right on you and though I wish you a Merry Christmas before let me do it again. Dad, I’m in just the pink of condition and kinda happy about having people like you at home thinking about me once in a while.
All my love dad,
While on board the ship, you write letters, but of course you can’t mail them until the ship docks, nor can you receive any mail. You count the days until mail call again, because that is the only lifeline between you and those you love.
On December 14th, you write a letter to your sister, Marge, who you also call “Red,” for her flaming hair, much to her chagrin, complaining, in a teasing brotherly way, of course, that you receive far fewer letters from her than she receives from you. You then write 4 paragraphs about the food, of all things, because you’re afraid to say goodbye to her. You then ask her, again, to write you more often, directly, no teasing this time. And then you finally say it:
So long sis, your brother sure is beginning to miss you.
The homesickness is dripping from your every word.
On December 22nd, you write a letter to your father that tells him how you’re just fine – because you’re really not and you’re terribly homesick and injured, but you don’t want to admit either.
Then you tell him how unhappy you are that the Army informed your parents that you were injured and you tell your father that it’s nothing, really, just a slight cut on your foot. You don’t tell him that the cutting instrument was an ax, because you know he would worry. You’re someplace on an island in the Pacific for treatment, so you tell him it’s easier on the island to sleep and that you’re always hungry, always first in the chow line and in the best health ever. Me thinks you do protest too much.
You complain that you still don’t have your brother, Bobbie’s address, and ask for someone to please send it to you. He too is serving in the military. You ask if his address is in the mail yet.
You congratulate your sister for graduating first. That must have come hard – but of course, had the war not interfered…
You close to your dad with, “Don’t forget, your son still loves you,” and a PS that says, “That goes for you too Mom and Marge.”
Now, you’re writing home almost every day. You talk about the Christmas carols on the radio and how it’s like Christmas in the middle of July. You reassure your family that you’re “feeling tops,” but of course, you’re not. You tell your father, “no more paternal concern on my score – do you hear!!!” Then you tell him that you worry about him and you want to come home and find him, “in the best health you’ve ever been in.”
Well, Dad, my time is running out but my love for you and the family isn’t.
Your loving son,
Finally, Christmas is over. Your letters home are gut-wrenching. The gifts sent by your family never arrived, but none-the-less you tell them you had a wonderful Christmas day doing nothing. Your letter on the 28th hints that you’re not receiving mail either, although you are still on the island recovering from the “minor injury.”
Say, pop, you’d better get a letter out here to me – maybe I’ll have something interesting in response. I write a much better letter when I’m reading one of yours.
Of course, you would never want to admit how desperately you miss your family or how you crave a letter. Some days, you receive 3 or 4 letters in one day, then none again for what seems like eternity.
A few days later, you are back on the ship again and writing your family. In those letters you admit to your sister that in fact, it wasn’t an ax after all, but a machete that slipped and cut your foot and infection followed. Sulfa drugs didn’t work. You were a lot, LOT, sicker than you admitted to your family.
It wasn’t your time to go. Not yet.
In January, you’re off the ship and on terra firma in the Philippine Islands, and you’ve lost your pocket Bible your father gave you to keep you safe. The Chaplain finds another one for you, but you lament the loss to your sister.
You tell your father how proud you are to have “Jr. tagged on your name,” because you are very proud to be his son. You tell him that some men don’t like being a “Jr.,” but you are honored. Your letters are becoming much more openly loving, with more than a hint of urgency.
Your girlfriend is working with the USO back home to put together a show so that she can show up in a performance and surprise you and the troops. I can only imagine the look on your face when you realize who is performing! It was supposed to be a surprise, but your girlfriend’s mother wrote a letter to you and unknowingly revealed the plan.
Wouldn’t that have been something!!!
Your letters continue to your family, but your life is becoming more difficult. You lament that your entire life is packed into one duffle bag, including that precious paper for writing home and an 8X10 picture of your girlfriend that you worry about spoiling. The Bible lives in your pocket. Some of your letters aren’t arriving home now. Your family and your girlfriend are comparing notes to try to piece your life together. The war is escalating and they are desperately worried.
Something is wrong. You are sent to Hawaii and try to pretend to your family it’s because you are sightseeing. Your tone gives you away when you say that “the coldness is sensed by me even more here than before.” And it’s not the weather you’re talking about.
Later in January, you’re gone from Hawaii, probably in the Philippines, and you tell your family that you’re “red-lined.” They don’t know that means that you’re in a thinly spread military unit holding firm against attack. Your letters become less frequent, or at least your family receives fewer of them, and there now seems to be at least a month or two delay between letters sent and a response to a particular letter. Some letters take even longer.
You tell your family how wonderful it is that your unit has managed to somehow rig up a shower.
On February 9th, you tell your family you’re receiving some additional inoculations, “shots in both arms,” and then you’ll be “ready for shipment.” However, that’s delayed, because on February 12th, you have infectious jaundice and are now hospitalized in the Philippines.
On the 17th, you’re very sick, but you write a couple sentences to your family telling them their mail from 5 months earlier is finally arriving and that your skin color is very yellow.
You don’t write again until March 2nd when you tell your sister that you’ve been in the hospital for 18 days – and you fall asleep while writing.
The letters (apparently) stop, as your sister and father saved every single one. Perhaps you wrote them, but your letters were never received.
We know from your sister’s scrapbooks and family members that you do recover and are shipped to Okinawa, arriving on April 6th.
On April 15th, you were assigned to a medical unit in the thick of the Battle of Okinawa which began on April 1st and lasted 82 days, until June 22nd. This was one of, if not the single bloodiest battles of WWII, with a total of around 165,000 men killed and scores more injured. The battle was known as the “typhoon of steel” in English and the “violent wind of steel” in Japanese, referencing the ferocity of the battle and the intensity of the Japanese attacks.
On April 19, 1945, in the battle of Bloody Ridge, a Japanese sniper shot you in the head as you threw yourself over the body of a wounded soldier, trying to save his life. I hope your death was swift – that you didn’t suffer.
The second half of the fortune-teller’s story had come true.
And I wonder…did my mother somehow know? Did you visit her? Are you the ghost that haunts your parents’ home?
This photo of two abandoned M4 Sherman tanks was taken the following day, April 20th, at Bloody Ridge. The battle was so intense that all of the foliage was blown off of the trees and vegetation was destroyed. The winter of war.
Your life, as we know it, ended that day, but your body didn’t come home for another four years. Your lifeblood watered the soil of Okinawa.
Sadly, we don’t know if the soldier you were trying to save lived.
Your sister’s notes indicate that you received a commendation for “bravery under fire.” Clearly, that would have been posthumously awarded, but somehow that seems very inadequate and understated for your incredible sacrifice. A sacrifice even more profound because of your unrealized potential.
We are left to wonder what that might have been.
Honoring Your Memory
I wonder from reading your letters, or at least the ones I have copies of, if you knew somehow that you would not survive. It seems that you may have had premonitions. Perhaps they drove the urgency with which you told your family over and over again how grateful you were for their presence in your life and how much you loved them.
Your girlfriend, Jean, became my mother a decade after you died. You were supposed to be my father, but sadly, that never happened, nor did the rest of your dreams.
Mother told me that she knew, somehow, the last time that you left the train station in Chicago that you would not be returning home. She stood on the platform and watched through rivers of tears as you disappeared from her life that that day, a proud soldier. She said she cried too hard and grieved too deeply…and she knew. She always “knew” things like that. Your tragic death tore the very fabric of her soul. I can only imagine the anguish as she watched the train disappear down those tracks, escorting you to the merciless future she could not share.
The discovery of your sister’s scrapbooks, salvaged from the trash heap by a wonderful Samaritan provided us with far more insight into your life that we could ever hope to have any other way. We know how much your family loved you and how desperately you loved them.
Of course, you have no way of knowing what happened after your death, how deeply and unremittingly they all grieved for you. You never knew that none of your family, nor my mother, were ever the same. All these years later, in many ways, we still live in the light cast by your flickering candle.
There was no recovery – there was only plodding forward, one foot at a time in front of the other. You touched and forever changed their lives, just as you touched the life, or perhaps eased the death of that man on the battlefield.
You are, indeed, a hero – by any measure.
Cornerstone of Peace Monument
Today, the Cornerstone of Peace monument, unveiled in 1995 and shown below, located in Itoman on the southern tip of Okinawa by the cliffs of Mobuni near where you died honors more than 240,000 who were killed on Okinawa from the US, Allied Forces, Japan and Okinawa.
Your name is etched here, Frank, commemorating your sacrifice. It’s not much, but it’s something. There is no consolation prize in life and death.
72 years distant.
From a lifetime and half a world away.
Let me say those words.
Did anyone ever say them?
At your funeral maybe?
Your body languished for 4 long years.
Someplace in Okinawa.
Before you reached your final resting place.
Returning home a fallen hero.
Was it even you in that wooden box?
Covered by a flag.
Those words seem obscenely inadequate.
I don’t know if you can hear them.
I don’t know if you will somehow know.
I need to say them anyway.
Thank you for your service.
Thank you for your bravery.
Thank you for your ultimate sacrifice.
Your life…your love…your dreams.
You gave them all.
The hearts of those you loved died that day too.
We don’t know where your footsteps would have gone.
How many you would have saved.
Had your light not been extinguished.
Way too early.
My heart grieves your death.
But oh so grateful that men like you lived.
To light the way.
Through the ages.
Your candle held high.
A fine example.
Honor, bravery, integrity.
You are not forgotten.