It was going to be a routine mission, but something went terribly wrong.
On Feb. 3, 1944, shortly after takeoff, the B-24 lost an engine and, returning to base, crash-landed at Hardwick Airfield in England. Lt. Richard Fassl and eight other crew members were killed.
There was nothing to be done except to collect the dead, say a few prayers and send a telegram: “THE SECRETARY OF WAR DESIRES ME TO EXPRESS HIS DEEP REGRET THAT YOUR SON….”
Richard Fassl was born in Austria. Like so many others, past and present, he and his family immigrated to Chicago in the 1920s, hoping to find a better future. His father, Ludwig, worked as a janitor.
Moving up, Richard graduated from Lane Tech High School and attended the Illinois Institute of Technology for a year. By 1942, he had a steady job with ComEd. Like just about every other young guy in Chicago, he’d get together with some buddies on a Wednesday or Thursday night. They’d go out bowling, have a few beers, share a few jokes. Someday, he’d get married, have kids, and start saving for a house.
But the war came along. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
Loving his new country, Richard Fassl did what he knew was right. He joined the military. The U.S. Army Air Corps sent him overseas to the European Theater. He never came home.
He is buried in the U.S. Military Cemetery at Cambridge, England.
I am forever grateful to Richard Fassl and the 407,299 other American men and women who gave their lives during World War II. My father was a prominent Chicago businessman back then, the 1940s and 1950s. If the United States had suffered a terrible defeat and was forced to make huge political changes, I might have grown up in a prison camp.
So, every year on the anniversary of Lt. Fassl’s death, I tie a bouquet of flowers to his memorial, located at Fullerton and Orchard streets in Chicago. Having been in the Air Force myself, I always give a salute.
But this year, being the 75 anniversary of Lt. Fassl’s death, I wanted to do something special. The Fassls were members of Saint Clement Catholic Parish in Lincoln Park. I’m Protestant, so I needed a little friendly guidance from someone close.
Saving Sunday afternoon for a quiet visit, I found that everyone is welcome at Saint Clement whenever the office is open. (Thank you, Father Paul.)
The sanctuary was beautiful, and peaceful a few hours after Mass. I found the statue of Saint Joseph, lit a candle, and said a prayer. It was a request, actually. I asked Saint Joseph to find the spirit of Richard Fassl and tell him that he is remembered, and that we are thankful for his sacrifice. And then quietly, respectfully, I left.
On this Memorial Day, I will be out at Rosehill Cemetery with members of my American Legion Post. This year is special for us. AMVETS Post 243 has passed the baton to us, and for the first time Tattler Post 973 will be in charge.
We will lay a wreath and play Taps to honor the veterans who have gone before us. And I will say a quiet “thank you” to Richard Fassl, a fellow American who sacrificed his life so that today, on this special day, all of us can live our lives in freedom.
William Dodd Brown is a writer and editor who lives in Chicago. He is a Vietnam-era veteran and member of the American Legion.
Send letters to: firstname.lastname@example.org.