From the book about Southwest and South Central Wisconsin
Honoring Fallen Soldiers
Submitted by Jim Brusoe of DePere, Wisconsin
I grew up in Gladstone in in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In September of 1944, I became a third grader at All Saints Catholic School. I was chosen to be an altar boy. An altar boy assists the priest at Mass. This is where my story begins.
The United States was in its third year of World War II. The number of casualties inflicted on our armed forces increased dramatically in 1944. Accounting for this was the Normandy invasion and the ensuring land battles in Europe, including the Battle of the Bulge. In the Pacific, the island hopping invasions towards Japan added to the number of killed and wounded.
Those killed in action were buried near where they fell. In this country, funerals were held in their honor. I served at these funerals. In lieu of a body, a catafalque was placed in the center aisle of the church. It was draped with a heavy, black brocaded cloth. The church was filled, Mass was said, military honors were accorded and many tears were shed. It was a sad, solemn gripping event. The dead men were so young.
After the war, the families of the deceased soldiers were offered the option of having the body sent home for re-internment in the local cemetery. Many chose to do this. I also served at the Mass commemorating this event. These were “tearless” funerals. Three years later, acceptance of the finality of death and the consequent healing of the human spirit, I believe, accounted for this.
The contrast was firmly implanted in the memory of a young, impressionable boy. Life goes on.