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updated: 5/21/2014 9:36 AM

Ex-Palatine, Forest View teacher worked for Gen. MacArthur

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  • Video: Palatine WWII vet honored

  • Burt "Sarge" Showers, left, a World War II veteran who served under Gen. Douglas MacArthur and later retired after teaching at two Northwest suburban high schools, now has a scholarship named in his honor. The scholarship, to be given annually to a Palatine High School senior, is funded by former student Ed Rogan, right.

       Burt "Sarge" Showers, left, a World War II veteran who served under Gen. Douglas MacArthur and later retired after teaching at two Northwest suburban high schools, now has a scholarship named in his honor. The scholarship, to be given annually to a Palatine High School senior, is funded by former student Ed Rogan, right.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • After serving under Gen. Douglas MacArthur during World War II, Burt "Sarge" Showers became a high school teacher in Palatine. A new scholarship, named in his honor and funded by a former student, will be awarded for the first time Wednesday night to a senior at Palatine High School.

       After serving under Gen. Douglas MacArthur during World War II, Burt "Sarge" Showers became a high school teacher in Palatine. A new scholarship, named in his honor and funded by a former student, will be awarded for the first time Wednesday night to a senior at Palatine High School.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Burt "Sarge" Showers is a World War II veteran who served under Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

      Burt "Sarge" Showers is a World War II veteran who served under Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
    Courtesy of Burt Showers

  • Five-star Gen. Douglas MacArthur smokes one of his trademark corn cob pipes aboard a ship bound for Luzon Island in the Philippines in this Jan. 20, 1945 file photo.

      Five-star Gen. Douglas MacArthur smokes one of his trademark corn cob pipes aboard a ship bound for Luzon Island in the Philippines in this Jan. 20, 1945 file photo.
    Associated Press

 
 

During the final years of World War II, Burt "Sarge" Showers worked directly for Gen. Douglas MacArthur as a mapmaker in the Pacific campaign, interacting daily with the legendary military figure.

But the 89-year-old Palatine area resident considers his subsequent career as a teacher at both Palatine and Forest View high schools in the Northwest suburbs to be an equally significant part of his life.

History teacher "Sarge" Showers became almost as legendary among his students at the old Palatine High School -- today's Palatine village hall -- as the famous general for whom he once worked.

But Ed Rogan, a 1961 Palatine High graduate who credits much of his success in life to Showers' teaching, believed his mentor didn't receive the send-off or recognition he deserved in 1963 when he was hired away by Forest View High School in Arlington Heights.

So Rogan has created a new $2,500 scholarship in Showers' name, and together they will award it to its first recipient Wednesday at Palatine High School's student recognition night.

Fred Hall, chief adjutant of American Legion Post 690 in Palatine, said Rogan already has funded the first three years of the scholarship.

"He helped me to set goals and accomplish them," said the 70-year-old Rogan, who owns Rogan Corp., a Northbrook-based injection-molding plastics manufacturer. "We had a great four years together."

Rogan said one of the reasons Showers was especially popular among the male students of his generation was his willingness to share stories about the war, something many of their own fathers didn't want to discuss.

Showers recognizes how unusual his willingness to talk about his war experiences and relative liberalism were among World War II veterans in the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s. He attributes this to his naturally outgoing personality having survived the war with him.

An interest and skill in mechanical drawing as a high school student in Waterloo, Iowa, landed Showers his military assignment, which began in Brisbane, Australia, on his 19th birthday and kept him out of direct combat.

But working in the headquarters of Gen. MacArthur -- a prime strategic target for the Japanese -- meant he certainly wasn't out of danger. The American invasion of Leyte in the Philippines is just one example of how the course of his life could have been changed.

"If the Japanese had won that battle, I would have been a prisoner of war and dead today," Showers said.

Appropriate to the fact he would later teach history, Showers' wartime assignment gave him a privileged view of one of the most important figures of the 20th century. But his memories are of a man, not a myth.

"He was a wonderful, great, caring individual," Showers said of his long-ago commanding officer. "Generals have to send people into combat. Someone has to do it. And he was stuck with it."

Showers began his teaching career at Palatine High School in 1950. The best advice he received from an older faculty member was to get involved with student activities as well.

His proficiency and popularity in that role -- specializing in student council -- is what caused Forest View High School to hire him as its director of student activities. In addition to the raise he received, Showers set the condition that he would continue to teach some classes. And he did, until his retirement in 1983.

While his students at Palatine High School, including Rogan, were allowed to address him by the nickname "Sarge," the principal at Forest View didn't allow that. So now, when someone on the street or supermarket calls out to "Sarge," he immediately knows they're from his 13 years at Palatine.

The scholarship being awarded in his name is available to Palatine High School seniors who write an essay on the importance of U.S. history and democracy.

Rogan said it is fitting criteria for a scholarship in the name of a beloved history teacher and war veteran. He believes too few people today are properly learning history.

"If you don't know history, you're going to make the same mistakes twice," Rogan said.

The submitted essays were narrowed down to five by Palatine High faculty members, and then the winner was chosen by members of American Legion Post 690.

Showers had his own opportunity to write about history in recent years. His account of his war years, "Burt, General MacArthur and GHQ" (the final initials standing for General Headquarters), was published last year and is available at Amazon.com.

"I had a sister about eight years older than me. She always wanted me to write about my memories from the war, good or bad," Showers said.

He kept putting it off. But a sense of guilt overwhelmed him after his sister died in August 2010, and he soon set to work.

The book was written entirely from memory, as assignment to MacArthur's "GHQ" involved such top-secret knowledge that keeping a diary was a severely punishable offense.

While that was part of the reason Showers had procrastinated so long, once he'd started he was amazed by how clear his memories had remained.

"I just a had a ball doing it," he said.

His experience of adding "author" to his life's work was so positive that he's now writing a second book about his 33 years of teaching in the Northwest suburbs.

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