Suburban woman befriends World War II veteran after reading profile on him
As she does nearly every day, Sarah Giachino glanced through her Daily Herald while sitting at her kitchen counter on a morning in early May.
Because she is a co-founder and director of Fox Valley Troop Support Inc., a story about a World War II veteran from St. Charles caught her eye.
It was about William Faulkner, who was a 21-year-old Marine when his company landed on the shores of Iwo Jima on Feb. 19,1945, to begin one of the bloodiest encounters in U.S. Marines history.
"I knew I had to meet him," said Giachino, whose St. Charles home was not far from Delnor Glen, where the 86-year-old Faulkner lives.
She drove over to Delnor Glen to hand-deliver a thank-you card to Faulkner for his service in the Marines 65 years ago. She met him in the lobby and immediately began to marvel at his sharp memory and wit and his stories that reminded her so much of her own father's war experiences.
It was the not first time that the power of print guided Giachino in a rewarding fashion.
"I had always had an interest in the military, but when I found my father's letters that he wrote to my mother during the war, I realized how important it is for our troops to hear back from people at home," Giachino said.
The newspaper article led to a friendship with Faulkner. Her father's letters had led to the creation of Fox Valley Troop Support Inc., an organization that sends letters, food and needed items to military bases overseas.
It didn't take long after they met for Faulkner and Giachino to connect and create a strong emotional bond.
"William Faulkner was 21 years old when he landed on Iwo Jima, just like my dad who was also 21 when he landed on D-Day plus 7," Giachino said. "He reminded me so much of my dad who survived so many battles in France."
Giachino's father was in the Army infantry fighting the Nazis, while Faulkner was in the Marine Corps infantry fighting on the other side of the world at Guadalcanal, Vella Lavella island and ultimately with the 5th Marine Division at Iwo Jima, being one of the first to land on the sulfur-type beaches near the base of Mount Suribachi.
Both men came home with Purple Hearts.
Because he knew how much her father's letters meant to her, Faulkner began writing letters to Giachino, telling her stories about his time in the military and expressing how important her friendship was to him.
"The letters mean so much to me, and it is wonderful that he takes the time to write about his feelings," Giachino said. "When the letter comes with the little Purple Heart stamp on it, I feel so touched."
Faulkner acknowledges Giachino's feelings, saying, "She's a great one to have as a friend."
Since they became friends, Giachino has introduced Faulkner to several local Marines and others in the military she meets through Fox Valley Troop Support.
"I think it is important that we honor today's servicemen and women, but also those from World War II who are still with us," Giachino said. "It's important that the younger soldiers talk to these heroes because their stories are just priceless.
"I think it is great when a World War II veteran doesn't hold back that information, because we need to hear those kinds of stories, even when they are gruesome."
Giachino visits with Faulkner often and takes him to lunch at his favorite restaurant, Honey Jam Café in Batavia, which is owned by his friend Dick Portillo.
"Dick Portillo took my whole family back to the South Pacific last year," Faulkner said. "My son David had seen an article that Mr. Portillo wrote about a trip he took to the South Pacific, and the article said he was going to go on another trip.
"Because Portillo was a former Marine and history buff, David contacted him and said he should meet me," Faulkner said. "The next thing I knew, Dick Portillo called me, and I didn't have any idea who he was."
It wasn't long after that, Faulkner said, that his son called and told him to get his passport updated because Portillo was taking him back to the areas where he served as a Marine.
"This man is truly part of the greatest generation that ever lived," Portillo said. "I took him to places where he was a 19-year-old Marine, and there were foxholes still there and Bill remembered which one he was in."
Faulkner was most pleased about something he and Portillo did near an airstrip he was familiar with in the South Pacific.
"We did a toast with my World War II canteen, which was filled with hot beer," Faulkner said, with a wide grin.
As for the trip back to where he viewed some of the most horrific scenes of the war and lost countless friends and fellow Marines, Faulkner said, "I didn't cry when I was there, but I cried that night."
When he viewed areas where his unit camped, it reminded Faulkner of his rugged sleeping arrangements.
"I was in the Marines for four years, and I slept in a tent or on the ground the whole time, other than maybe three months," said Faulkner, whose duty at Iwo Jima was halted after 18 days when he was wounded by a mortar shell at what was called Hill 362.
As a measure of her gratitude toward Faulkner, Giachino used some of her connections with Marine recruiting offices to secure an invitation to Faulkner for a special honor at Saturday's Marine Corps Ball at the Union League Club in Chicago.
Gunnery Sgt. Michael Tackett came to Delnor Glen dressed in Marine blues to deliver the invitation to Faulkner.
"You should have seen the reaction of the sweet ladies sitting out on the front porch when Sgt. Tackett passed by and presented PFC William Faulkner that invitation," Giachino said. "It was a moment I will never forget."
Faulkner is hoping to get physician clearance to be able to attend the ball, as he does face some ongoing health issues.
For some Marines he has met, Faulkner has signed the first page of Chapter Seven in the book, "Flags of Our Fathers." It is the chapter titled "D-Day," which describes the first wave he was part of landing on the beach at Iwo Jima.
The Japanese strategy of that day was for all of the Marines to be landed on the beach before they opened fire, a moment Faulkner recalled during his May interview.
"They didn't start firing and shelling the beach until probably an hour after we landed," Faulkner told Daily Herald reporter Josh Stockinger. "We crossed the island in 90 minutes under all that intense fire."
Portillo called Faulkner's memory "amazing," saying it added so much to their trip.
"You hear about what these guys went through during World War II, but until you've been there (in the South Pacific), you can't imagine what it is really like," Portillo said. "The climate they had to fight through, it was so hot and there was so much rain.
"I had to throw away my boots," Portillo said. "And I was just visiting there. Imagine trying to fight a war."
Giachino makes it clear that her friendship with Faulkner has helped keep her ailing father, who has lost his memory and can no longer share stories of his experiences, in the forefront of her mind.
"Throughout these visits, I have developed a genuine friendship with a dear man that I am honored to call my friend," Giachino said. "Mr. Faulkner has not replaced my father, but visiting him and being in his company makes me feel like I haven't lost my dad forever."