What's In A Name?
A Memorial Day Tribute
A name can carry much in the way of meaning. It may denote history of a family, or it may convey an important belief of the parents. One’s name could be a bit of an embarrassment, or a badge of honor. It may mean nothing to the namesake, or it may signify a great deal of pride.
Take my name, for example. Though I go by Frank, my given name is Francis. Now when you are a small child, having the same name as some girls do can be a bit embarrassing. Never mind the fact that they spell the name with an “e” and the boys’ version uses an “i”; it still sounds the same, so it would get a laugh from the other kids.
The fact that I was named after an uncle didn’t really impact my thinking as a child. I didn’t even know him; he wasn’t around while I was young. He was not someone who bought me presents, not someone who took me to a ballgame or amusement park; I just knew him through the name, a name that sometimes was a source of embarrassment.
Of course I knew early on why my uncle wasn’t around. As did my father, Ed, and his other brother, Milt, Uncle Frank served during WW II. In the Air Force; US Army Air Corps, to be exact. But unlike his brothers, Ed and Milt, Frank didn’t return after the war.
As I grew older, I heard stories about Uncle Frank from my parents. Nice guy, handsome, kind, soft spoken; unlike his two brothers, who often got into trouble. Seems he joined the service before our involvement in the war. He served a stint at the Air Corps base in Hawaii, Hickam Field. Found out he happened to be there on December 7, 1941.
After surviving that day, he went to training to become a bombardier. I didn’t know the specifics, but sometime afterwards, he died when his plane was shot down in 1944.
Let’s move forward, from my childhood in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, to the early 2000’s. Having developed a keen interest in history, and with the Internet available as a reference source, I decided to put together as much of the story of my uncle as possible. Perhaps because I carried his name, I always felt a connection, and a need for answers.
I discovered the specifics of his service. He was a member of the 772ndHeavy Bomber Squadron, 463rdBomb Group, based in Foggia, Italy. I discovered an online group dedicated to those who served there. Through contacting them, the administrator of the site was able to forward me some photos of my uncle at the base. He also put me in touch with two living veterans that knew my uncle.
One of those captained the B 17 that flew next to my uncle’s plane the day it was shot down, July 25, 1944, over Linz, Austria. He related how he saw the AA fire hit the fuel tank of Frank’s plane, and how quickly it went down. Some were able to bail out of the plane before crashing. Uncle Frank was not one of them. I also saw a diary entry from another vet for that July 25th; “Rather rough day,” it started out.
The other contact was a vet living in Florida, whom I was able to speak with on the phone. He talked about how he and my uncle were good friends, and how they spent the evening hanging out together prior to that July 25 disaster. Not only did this vet sound great on the phone, he related to me that the next day, he was heading out for a game of tennis, at age 90. It was very satisfying to know this friend of my uncle’s survived, and was still active so many years later.
There were still some mysteries. For instance, the Germans were notorious for keeping records, but a record of my uncle’s death was not available, though there was a record for the B 17 pilot, who also died. Still, this was not unheard of, I discovered. What I do know is that his remains were apparently found, and interred at the Ardennes American Cemetery, in Belgium. Through the power of the Internet, I can even view his grave marker, inscribed with his name. 5,300 other American service people, most who served in the Air Corps, have this same place of honor as their final resting place.
This Memorial Day, as always, we need to remember those hundreds of thousands of Americans, from the farmlands of Massachusetts, to the barren landscape of Afghanistan, who, as my uncle did, gave their lives for a cause greater than themselves.
What’s in a name? In my case, a memory, and a memorial to one American, one of so many, that sacrificed their lives for an ideal, for their countrymen, for their brothers and sisters in arms. And gratitude, in knowing that at least while I’m alive, his sacrifice, his name, will not be forgotten.