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updated: 8/4/2014 5:28 AM

World War II vet connects with family of man who died on his shoulder

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  • From left, Army Col. Paul J. Hettich, left, Tom McAvoy, former Army Staff Sgt. John Trinca, Thomas Bateman Jr. and Army Cpt. Zachariah Fike at the conclusion of Sunday's ceremony at the College of Lake County Veterans Memorial.

       From left, Army Col. Paul J. Hettich, left, Tom McAvoy, former Army Staff Sgt. John Trinca, Thomas Bateman Jr. and Army Cpt. Zachariah Fike at the conclusion of Sunday's ceremony at the College of Lake County Veterans Memorial.
    Steve Zalusky | Staff Photographer

  • Thomas Bateman's Purple Heart medal.

      Thomas Bateman's Purple Heart medal.
    Courtesy of Purple Hearts Reunited

  • Thomas Bateman

      Thomas Bateman

  • Thomas Bateman Jr., right, talks with former Army Staff Sgt. John Trinca of Antioch Township at Sunday's Purple Hearts Reunited Medal Presentation at the College of Lake County. Bateman received the medal that had been awarded to his father, who died during World War II.

       Thomas Bateman Jr., right, talks with former Army Staff Sgt. John Trinca of Antioch Township at Sunday's Purple Hearts Reunited Medal Presentation at the College of Lake County. Bateman received the medal that had been awarded to his father, who died during World War II.
    Steve Zalusky | Staff Photographer

  • Former Army Staff Sgt. John Trinca of Antioch Township, left, and Thomas Bateman Jr. at Sunday's Purple Hearts Reunited Medal Presentation at the College of Lake County. Bateman received his father's World War II Purple Heart medal, which had been missing for more than 60 years.

       Former Army Staff Sgt. John Trinca of Antioch Township, left, and Thomas Bateman Jr. at Sunday's Purple Hearts Reunited Medal Presentation at the College of Lake County. Bateman received his father's World War II Purple Heart medal, which had been missing for more than 60 years.
    Steve Zalusky | Staff Photographer

  • Former Army Staff Sgt. John Trinca of Antioch Township talks with Army Capt. Zachariah Fike at the College of Lake County on Sunday. Fike was instrumental in bringing together Trinca and the family of Thomas Bateman, a soldier whose death Trinca witnessed during World War II.

       Former Army Staff Sgt. John Trinca of Antioch Township talks with Army Capt. Zachariah Fike at the College of Lake County on Sunday. Fike was instrumental in bringing together Trinca and the family of Thomas Bateman, a soldier whose death Trinca witnessed during World War II.
    Steve Zalusky | Staff Photographer

 

For former Staff Sgt. John Trinca, Sunday was a day of closure.

But for Thomas Bateman of Memphis, Tennessee, and his family, the ceremony where they received his father's Purple Heart medal is just the beginning.

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Trinca, who was frequently reduced to tears during the event at the College of Lake County and the Willow Lake Veterans Memorial in Grayslake, finally had the chance to connect with the family of the man who was killed during World War II in the Philippines and died on his shoulder.

Pvt. Thomas Bateman was born in 1920, the son of Thomas and Anna Maude. He enlisted in the early 1940s and served as an infantryman with the 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division. He was killed by enemy fire June 3, 1945, in Mindanao, Cebu.

At the time, Trinca did not even know Bateman's name -- only that he came from Chicago.

"He told me his name," the Antioch Township man said. "It went in one ear and out the other."

Trinca did find out they came from the same neighborhood.

"Thomas Bateman lived in my neighborhood, because I asked him where he lived and he said Damen and North Avenue," he said.

He had promised to tell Bateman's parents if anything happened to him.

Sunday, Trinca had a chance to talk with Bateman's son, Thomas, and Thomas' daughter and two sons.

Thomas' daughter, Tricia, said Trinca talked during breakfast about closure.

But, to her family, new doors of information are opening.

Tricia Bateman is starting to fill in the gaps of her grandfather's story through recently examined correspondence.

"It's always been such a big question mark that there wasn't a lot to talk about. And now I have more of a reason to dig back through those pictures and letters," she said.

Those letters reveal personality, humor, optimism and details about home life in Chicago. He mentions that "his son is cute and he loves him," she said.

"We were reading one this morning that he wrote when he got to the Philippines, about how some of the men were keeping monkeys as pets and feeding them coconuts," Tricia Bateman said.

The letters also reveal her grandfather had repeatedly been deferred from serving in the military, which caused him discomfort.

The family received his medal through Purple Hearts Reunited, a nonprofit foundation that locates lost or stolen military medals.

Army Capt. Zachariah Fike of Purple Hearts Reunited said medals are turning up all over the country.

"They're being found in old homes, old vehicles, on the street," Fike said.

"Metal detector enthusiasts are finding them in the ground. We receive three to five medals a week in the mail, most often unannounced. They include not only Purple Hearts, but also Bronze Stars and even a Medal of Honor."

The process, he said, brings closure to families and brings them closer together.

Bateman's medal was rescued from the trash by Tom McAvoy in the 1950s, when the 74-year-old Frankfort resident was a boy in Hyde Park. McAvoy brought the medal bearing Bateman's name to the attention of Purple Hearts Reunited after it had been kept in his family for more than 60 years.

Fike found Trinca this year through a newspaper story about Trinca's discovery that the unknown soldier's name was Thomas Bateman. Fike called Trinca on June 3, the anniversary of Bateman's death.

Sunday, Trinca remembered the conversation, saying, "I was freaked out," but he added, tearfully, "Captain, thank you from the bottom of my heart for calling me."

During the ceremony, Thomas Bateman Jr. credited the perseverance and integrity of McAvoy and Trinca for making the day possible.

"I never knew my dad, so I'm grateful for this opportunity to honor him," Bateman said.

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