Monday, May 31, 2010

Making Memorial Day Personal

Today, we Americans are celebrating Memorial Day, a holiday set aside in remembrance of those who have given their lives in service to our country. Some of us will watch parades or attend special memorial services to honor the fallen. Others will gather with family and friends for picnics and backyard barbeques. I have been extremely blessed in that all of my family and friends who served in the armed forces -- my father and three uncles, who served in WWII; my brother-in-law, who served in Vietnam; a cousin, who served in the Navy; and several friends who served and continue to serve in the Marines, the Army and the Coast Guard -- returned from duty to their homes and their civilian lives.

But that doesn't mean I feel no kinship with those who have lost loved ones to armed conflict or other duties. In fact, every year when Memorial Day rolls around, I think of this man:

Sargeant Allgeier served side-by-side with my father in the 474th AAA as they pushed across Europe, liberating France and Belgium, and sending the Germans into retreat. My father sometimes mentioned "Radio Algiers," even though talk of war memories was a rare occurrance. I think his comrade's death affected him profoundly, for his voice, when he said his name, was always wistful and longing. I have no idea how close they were; my father wasn't very forthcoming about his experiences in the war until late in his life, when I was no longer with him every day. But I do know that he carried those experiences with him all his life, and that they shaped who he was and who he would become.

In their book, The Maverick Outfit: A History of the 474th Anti-Aircraft Battalion (1966), Joseph P. Barrett and Frank Spalletti describe it thus:

"But the war was not over yet, for ... the next day the outfit lost three men. Captain Gordon Potter; Sergeant Albert G. Allgeier, of Erie, Pa., who was kiddingly called "Radio Station Algiers"; and PFC William J. Ousley, of Philadelphia, the artist who painted pictures and names on the half-tracks ... were on a scouting mission when they were ambushed by a German machine gun crew."

What I don't know about Sargeant Allgeier far outweighs what I do know. I know that he hailed from Erie, PA and left behind a wife and, if I recall correctly, and infant son whom he had never seen. I know that he was missing for several days before they found his body and were able to declare him KIA. I know he received a Purple Heart. I know that he is buried in the Margraten Netherlands American Cemetary, Plot H, Row 1, Grave 13. Some day, I hope to pay my respects in person.

I wish I knew more. I wish I knew if he played sports, if he enjoyed going to the movies, what his favorite foods were, how he proposed to his wife, what he dreamed of doing when he got out of the army, what treasures he carried to remind him of home. So many questions that I will never know the answers to ... but my imagination supplies the missing pieces and I allow myself to make Albert more than just a name on a cross, or a picture in the newspaper. For me, Sargeant Albert Allgeier is real, and today I weep for him and thank him for his sacrifice.

I ask that all of you reading this, no matter your nationality or the country you call home, no matter your faith or beliefs, no matter your political views, please take a moment today to say a silent Thank You to all those who willingly served and died to help make the life you live today possible.

I leave you with a poem by Lt. Col. John McCrae:


In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

in Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.


  1. Hi this is great and Frank the author of the book was my uncle. Do you have any idea where I could get a copy. Seems my aunt can't find hers anywhere. and I really would like to learn more about him. I know that she made sure hes battalion each received a copy but I don't know if there's any more anywhere. any help would be great.
    Thank you

  2. Hi Terri! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Frank was your uncle?! That's great! The book has been an incredibly valuable resource for my sister and I as we've tried to piece together our father's life at war. Unfortunately, my father didn't have a copy of his own ... my guess is that you had to attend the unit reunion in 1966 in order to get one and he didn't attend. My sister and I actually borrowed a copy from Herb Tucker, who was also from Erie and in the unit, and made notes. I have a local book dealer who specializes in military history on the lookout for me if he ever runs across one at an estate sale or something, but so far he hasn't had any luck. If you'd like to leave me your email, I can let you know if I find out anything further.

  3. Hi. It was fantastic reading this post. Albert Allgeier is my grandfather. I am the only son of his only son. I have been to his grave in Margraten with my father about a decade ago. Thanks.

  4. Hello! This was so meaningful to read. Albert Allgeier was my dad's father (my brother Don also posted a comment). Albert's wife went on to remarry and have 8! more kids. She outlived her 2nd husband and still presides over her large family in Erie, PA. Sadly, our dad, Albert Richard Allgeier (Rick), passed away suddenly in 2005. Thank you for this post. --Kate Laughlin

  5. Update: I can now tell you that Albert's widow has read this post. She very much enjoyed it. --Kate

  6. Don and Kate ...
    I am both speechless and teary-eyed. I never dreamed, when I wrote this, that I would ever have the opportunity to be in touch with anyone from this brave man's family. Words can't even begin to do justice to how overwhelmed I feel at the moment, but I want you to know how very much I appreciate your comments and your updates. My mother kept your grandfather's obituary in her wartime scrapbook, which is where the photo came from. I don't know if she and your grandmother ever met or traveled together but I do know that your grandfather was very much alive in my father's heart and mind clear up until his own death in 2001. Thank you for sharing a bit of your life and hers with me. I wish you, your grandmother and all your family a very Merry Christmas, and a truly blessed New Year.