Remembering a Soldier

Last Saturday was June 6, the 76th Anniversary of D-Day. The date that the Allied forces came together for a massive campaign to overtake the beaches of France in order to work toward an end to World War II. There wasn’t much news coverage of the commemoration of that event this year. Usually, people gather at the Normandy beaches and in the surrounding towns. Dignitaries from the Allied countries give speeches & soldiers return to remember their friends and comrades who gave the ultimate sacrifice on the beaches. This year, travel was curtailed by a pandemic so the beaches and towns were empty of visitors. News reports of the simple commemoration by a few people were overshadowed by other events. But just because there wasn’t a big celebration this year, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t mark the day. The soldiers and civilians who were witnesses to that day are being lost to time & we need to continue to collect their stories so when they are gone, we can still truthfully commemorate the events.

But D-day wasn’t the final battle of WWII. Those who fought to take the beaches on June 6, 1944, provided a pathway for the next waves of soldiers to enter Europe to eventually overtake the Nazi forces. There was another year of brutal battles before the War in Europe was over, then a few more months before the War in the Pacific was over.

One of the soldiers who followed after the D-day contingent was Joseph George Serketich, Jr. He was born in Pennsylvania January 28, 1919 to Joseph (1893-1956) and Anna (Vugrinovic) (1896-1983) Serketich. He was born while his father was working in the coal mines in Pennsylvania. The family returned to Sheboygan, WI when he was very young.

The Sheboygan Press newspaper gives the basic story of Joseph’s military service:

On June 30, 1942. Joseph is listed as one of 103 men from Sheboygan who will enter military service. He was 23 years old.

July 6, 1942. There was a flag dedication ceremony at his church, St. Dominic’s on July 5. This ceremony was to dedicate a new flag pole & to bless the US flag that would be raised. It also was a day to recognize the 23 young men from the congregation who were in the military & inscribe their names on the church’s honor roll. Joseph’s name was included on the roll.

July 7, 1942. A crowd of over 5000 people gathered to see the soldiers off to Fort Sheridan, IL. On the 6th, they checked in at the post office and paraded to the train depot accompanied by a band playing “many patriotic numbers.”

Joseph moved on to Camp Swift, TX for his training, and on August 6, 1942, a letter that he wrote on July 31 to his priest—Rev. Fr. George J. Knackert, was published in the paper. He is still a young soldier—only 3 weeks in the service. He told of his impressions of the way the soldiers worked together showing “such great teamwork and sportsmanship.” He states, “the U.S. Army is the best in the world.” He talks of working with “all kinds of men, of all religions and nationalities. They are all here for the same purpose and all work as a unit.” He mentions how good it is to see the men in chapel together. He says, “The people of America can really be proud of their army.” He is part of the Headquarters Battery, 360th Field Artillery Battalion, 95th Division. He comments that “The 95th is sure going to be a rugged outfit.”

On August 21, 1942, a letter to the Editor that Joseph wrote on August 16, was published. Here he mentions his surprise that his earlier letter had been published in the paper & hoped the readers “could vision the ideals I intended to bring out about camp life.” He also mentions that there were several other young men from Sheboygan training at Camp Swift and “the people of Sheboygan can be very proud of their boys.” He says “each one is prepared to perform the task placed before him that they may enjoy the rights which the Almighty has given every man to work out his life and gain real happiness.” He expresses his trust in God to give victory & states “the people of America and her allies need not be afraid of any worldly force brought against them.”

November 2, 1942. Joseph is promoted to Corporal in the U.S. Army. This notice includes a photo of him in uniform.

January 7, 1943. Joseph’s name is included on the new Croatian Societies Honor Roll at a banquet at the Croatian Hall in Sheboygan.

January 12, 1943. Announces Joseph’s return to Fort Sam Houston, TX after an 8-day furlough at home.

June 15, 1943. Corporal Technician Joseph G. Serketich is promoted to Sergeant. He’s been in the Army for almost a year.

A tragedy occurred in Joseph’s family on June 21, 1943. Two of his brothers, Rudolph, age 16, and Steven, age 13, drowned in the Pigeon river. Joseph was present at the funeral on June 25. At that time he was stationed at a camp in Louisiana.

I couldn’t find any mention of Joseph in the paper until December 1944.

On December 4, there was an announcement that his family received word that he was killed in action at Manzeres, near Metz, France on November 17, 1944. It gives a summary of his military duty stations & states that he left in July 1944 for Europe. He was in England for 2 weeks, then on to France, “where he saw action in the 95th division of the Third army under General Patton.” I expect he followed the path forged by those soldiers on D-day. Information for a “memorial requiem high mass” at St. Dominic’s church was included.

Another announcement of his death on December 5, contained a picture of Sgt. Serketich. He had grown a mustache and looked a little more mature than the picture from 2 years earlier. He was 25 years old when he died.

By the way, the 95th Division had the nickname, “The Iron Men of Metz,” after capturing and defending this town from repeated German attacks. So I guess Joseph’s description was true—it was a “rugged outfit.”

May 22, 1945. An article lists Joseph’s older brother, John S. (1916-1997), as one of the 63 men from the Sheboygan area to leave for military service. Also in that list was John and Joseph’s First Cousin once Removed, John A. Chvarack (1916-1967), my Grandfather. While the war in Europe was officially over, soldiers were still needed. According to his obituary, John S. served as a quarter master in Germany. My Grandfather, John A. Chvarack, served on the US Hospital Ship Hope.

The final notices regarding Joseph were in August, 1948:

August 12, 1948. Announced the plans for his reburial service.

August 16, 1948. The announcement and description of the funeral service for T/4 Joseph G. Serketich with Military rites. He was buried on the family lot in Greendale cemetery, Kohler, WI.

This being Flag Day (June 14), the day commemorating the adoption of the flag of the United States in 1777, I thought it pertinent to mention two more items from Joseph’s story.

First, Rev. George J. Knackert’s words from the flag dedication ceremony July 5, 1942:

The Stars and Stripes are to us the symbol of our constitution and democratic form of government…From the moment it was flung to the breeze in our nation’s first stroke for freedom it has waved to the rhythm of right in war and peace. Though it wave in gentlest calm or wildest tempest, its red ripples on like the warm blood that trickles from the patriotic breast; its white streams on as if pleading with us to seek the purest in life and to trample down any vicious scheme or godless plot; its blue but undulates to remind us that after all, home, sweet home is not only here, but above all in the azure of the great beyond; and its stars, even when the night is darkest with war and social distresses, are so many beacons inspiring hope and trust in God…the freedom which our forefathers have dearly won and bequeathed to us, must be fought for again and again by labor and toil in each generation, must be recaptured and won unceasingly, even at the cost of sweat and blood and tears in order to be appreciated, cherished and preserved for future generations…

Second, this is what Joseph said in his letter on July 31, 1942:

There is another thrill, which makes a mind to become thoughtful. That is when the army has retreat at the end of each day–the most beautiful ceremony in the army. There the men all stand in formation, facing the flag of our country. While the colors are being lowered the men stand at attention and present arms. At the same time the band plays the national anthem. The thrill comes when one stares at the flag there high in the sky, he wonders what is it there for. What does it mean? Liberty, freedom, happiness and freedom of religion…I will fight to defend it whenever an enemy tries to take it from us. I will die for it as Christ died for me…All America should be proud of its flag, not of its material beauty, but for what it stands–life, liberty and happiness–to be also proud of its soldiers who fought to make it, and who fight to preserve it.”

Most of this section of Joseph’s letter was read into the Congressional Record (Vol. 146 (2000), Part 8) by the Hon. Gerald D. Kleczka of Wisconsin, in the House of Representatives, on June 14, 2000.

I end with Joseph’s sentiment at the end of his letter to the Editor August 16:

May God bless America.

Keep ’em flying.

© MJM 2020

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