Memorial Day remembered
5/23/15. Memorial Day is upon us again. I am reminded of another Memorial Day and an Armistice Day long ago. On Memorial Day some 20 years ago, I was working in my study with the radio playing music in the background. I became aware that I was hearing a song about a soldier who had died during World War II on New Georgia Island in the Solomon Islands. It brought tears to my eyes because my father had been there.
The song was the “The Ballad of Rodger Young” by Frank Loesser about a World War II casualty and a Medal of Honor recipient. Rodger Young was killed on July 31, 1943, most likely during the American attack on Munda airfield. My father, Wilber Bradt, had been wounded twice and had lost several of his junior officers there in those very same days.
A segment of the lyrics is quoted here (Frank Loesser, Life Magazine, 5 March 1945, p. 117):
- “… On the island of New Georgia in the Solomons,
- Stands a simple wooden cross alone to tell
- That beneath the silent coral of the Solomons,
- Sleeps a man, sleeps a man remembered well.
- Sleeps a man — Rodger Young,
- Fought and died for the men he marched among
- In the everlasting spirit of the Infantry
- Breathes the spirit of Private Rodger Young.…”
Rodger Young was surely buried in the cemetery at Munda on New Georgia. On Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1943, shortly after the battles, Wilber partook in the ceremony his Division held at the Munda cemetery. Several days later, he wrote about it to his daughter:
” … We attended a religious and military memorial service on Armistice Day in honor of our dead comrades. We stood at salute while the firing squad fired a volley for each battalion or regiment that had one or more men killed. For us, the speaker said “For 1st Lt ——, the first to fall in the 169th F.A. Bn. and his brave comrades that followed.” Then the volley was fired. It was a beautiful spot that had been made into a cemetery and the service was lovely but so, so sad. I hope too many more don’t “follow” in the next year.…”
In 1949, Rodger Young’s body was returned to the USA, probably at the request of his family, but many others were not. Forty years after the battles, I was tracking my dad’s story in the Pacific and was visiting the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines at which military dead from all over the Pacific were re-interred. I located there the graves of several of Wilber’s junior officers, which had been moved from Munda Cemetery after the war. The photo above shows me at the grave of one of them, Lt. Norbert Heidelberger. The photos below show the Munda cemetery in 1944 and the Manila cemetery in 1983. Every Christian Cross or Star of David has a sad-sad story associated with it. Click on the photos to expand them.