AMBOY – Over time, we forget things. We unprioitize colossally important events, people, and moments because they fade in time.
However, time doesn’t take away from the significance of the occasion or the hero.
Amboy natives Jack Mead and Tom Dempsey want to bring back the stories of Lee County World War II veterans and what they meant to the local community and the effort of the United States of America’s military in the biggest fight it has ever been in.
They are bringing back World War II veterans to the top of the honor, thankful, grateful, respect lists with their book Ultimate Sacrifice: Lee County Soldiers Who Gave Their Lives in World War II.
“I like to read quotes. I read one that said, ‘Everyone dies twice. The first time they die is whatever they die of. The second time is the last time anyone says your name,’” said Mead, who has been the commander of the American Legion Post 453 in Amboy for the last 10 years. “It made me think about these World War II veterans that gave their lives from our county.
“My good friend, Tom Dempsey, and I decided we would do the veteran stories for the Amboy News. They started running weekly and more and more people came up to me and said, ‘What about this person?’ and ‘What about that person?’.
“We did investigation with the county roll. We also went to the museum in Amboy and other museums in the county to find everyone we could. We found 98 people from Lee County that lost their lives in the war.”
A lot of factors swirled together to produce the Ultimate Sacrifice.
It was the quote. The partnership of two lifelong friends in Mead and Dempsey.
It was Veterans Day.
The fact that a generation or two knew nothing about their ancestors who fought in the biggest war the world has ever seen.
And it was Army Second Lieutenant John Joseph Fanelli, No. O-696844.
“We also got this idea because of John Joseph Fanelli. He is the first reported death at D-Day because of a glider crash,” Mead said. “He was our catalyst to really get going on the book. I’m glad we did it. It’s been great having the stories in the Amboy News. I hope it’s successful because it was a lot of hard work.
“All the stories vary. Many died very heroic deaths, but there were some strange stories also. One guy came home on leave and drowned in the Rock River. Another guy on the older side, was working as a mechanic and died of a heart attack. They were involved in the war. There is an index in the back to help you find the exact page for every veteran.”
The stories the two Amboy natives found and wrote for both articles in the Amboy News and for their book were sometimes hard to come by.
They know they don’t have every World War II hero from Lee County or from Amboy in the book as they couldn’t find records, information, or family members, and some names may be left off national lists made in 1946 after the war had ended in September 1945.
“We found 82 soldiers from Amboy that died in the war. The stories of those 82 are in this book, but we could have missed some,” said Dempsey, who was born and raised in Amboy, lived in Chicago for a few decades, and lived in Boston for the last three years before moving to New York City recently. “If we couldn’t locate their records or get much information about them, and there could be some, I’d hope someone would contact us if they know a name that isn’t in the book.
“I would hope this book is really important. Generations have passed since World War II and people forget easily. I think our intent with the book is to keep these memories alive. I hope this book allows the community to know about these guys and remember them.”
Dempsey had some of his own kin in World War II as his Aunt Katie Reilly was an Army Air Force nurse and his Uncle Tom was in the Army in the South Pacific.
Mead and Dempsey worked together during every step of the creation of the book.
Dempsey said Mead wrote a great introduction and did the Ultimate Sacrifice’s narration, while Mead accredited Mead for the publication and the book’s layout.
Both of them did research and wrote the veteran stories.
“We decided on the format we went with because we could get the books done comparatively cheaper than hardcover,” Mead said. “Binding is really expensive. It cost us approximately $14 to make one book. We ordered 100 to start with so we can see how they sell. We are going to sell them for $20 each. That’ll give us a little bit of profit and it doesn’t break the bank for anyone who wants to buy the book.
“The book brings the stories back to the surface again. The story of the veteran may have stayed relevant for a generation, but then it is forgotten. The stories in the newspaper and this book bring the veterans back to mind. Now, people can say, ‘That’s my uncle’ or ‘This is my cousin’.”
The Ultimate Sacrifice: Lee County Soldiers Who Gave Their Lives in World War II will be sold for $20 a copy and can be found at Vaessen Brothers Chevrolet in Sublette, Amboy City Hall, and at the Dixon First National Bank’s north facility.
The book’s artwork is a D-Day mural Loreen Mead, Jack’s wife, painted at Veterans Park in Amboy.
Although the book took about a year to come together, both Dempsey and Mead said they enjoyed doing the hard work.
In fact, they want to do it three more times as they intend to publish similar books for World War I, the Korean War, and Vietnam.