Remembering Elgin's World War II veterans
When Cynthia Christ Nelson found a pile of newspaper clippings about Elgin men and women who served during World War II among her father's possessions following his death several years ago, she wasn't sure what to do with them.
Being a genealogist since the early 1970s, she quickly realized the clippings could also benefit other families and decided to assemble them into a scrapbook.
Originally saved by her grandmother Margaret Christ beginning in early 1943 when her sons Edward and Robert and many of their friends joined the service, the clippings would eventually pass to her son Edward and then to Nelson. Nelson said the clippings took on even greater meaning after she learned her mother's brother, Robert L. Chapman, and Kenneth Bau, a childhood friend he had enlisted with, both died on Iwo Jima.
As they came together, the clippings told a compelling story of how the war affected Elgin -- then a community of about 38,000 people. It traces how they joined, what men and women did before serving, how they were wounded, awards and promotions, and for some, where they made the ultimate sacrifice.
Those who served from the Elgin area during World War II came from all walks of life. Welder, farmer, shipping clerk, printer, assembler, and watch factory employee were just some of the occupations many left behind to serve their country.
Many others joined directly out of high school or some left before graduation to enlist. A number left behind notable records in basketball, football and track.
Some enlistees signed up with their best friend and some joined with several friends. In some cases, fathers and sons serving together also made news.
Women as well as men made the news. Some joined as nurses and others served in the W.A.V.E.S. -- or "Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service" -- an entity that allowed women to serve in some roles to free up men for other positions.
The scrapbook also details how some were rescued from precarious situations, including downed ships and planes, and how others were given awards for their valor. The places Elgin men died exemplified the vastness of the war effort.
Some perished in training accidents in the states. Others gave their lives on Normandy Beach on D-Day. Still others died in Tarawa Isle in the Gilbert Islands, the Philippines, China and other locales.
One bomber badly hit by enemy fire in Germany managed to limp back to base successfully. One Elginite, however, never got out of the turret -- he was dead at the guns. Elgin men died in German and Japanese prisoner camps. Some perished by starvation while others did so by mistreatment.
On a personal level, Nelson's scrapbook also includes the death of her Uncle Robert L. Chapman and his childhood friend Kenneth Bau on Iwo Jima.
"My Uncle Bob was someone my mother could hardly speak of without crying," said Nelson. "I dedicated the scrapbook to both of them."
"The first battle is over. We have secured our end of the island," Chapman wrote in a letter to his mother and sister a week before his death by a sniper. "I'm still here and don't know when we'll leave."
Originally interred on Iwo Jima, the two now lie side by side at Lakewood Memorial Park, in Elgin.
While the exact number of Elgin men and women who served in World War II is uncertain, most agree it is in the thousands. The number who were killed in the war from Elgin is also unclear but most local historians feel it numbers more than 100.
Nelson said she is proud to share her compilation of the service of Elgin men and women in World War II.
"I plan to donate the scrapbook to the Elgin History Museum so it can be a benefit to others," she added.