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
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.