Thursday, June 14, 2012

Doug Schuler - Blank Check Project

I thought you might enjoy learning about what Doug Schuler, Watseka Community High School Class of 1980, has been doing. Doug was an extraordinarily talented musician. He still is.

Although Doug lives in Chicago now, the old adage rings true: "You can take the boy out of the small town but you can't take the small town out of the boy."

Doug, like so many Watsekans before him, is finding a way to be of service to others. He is the creator and producer of "The Blank Check Project." Premised on the saying "a veteran is someone who wrote a blank check made payable . . . for an amount of 'up to and including [his/her] life,'" it's a musical project that will benefit wounded and ill veterans.

Doug invested his talent, time and money into this project. Through his good nature and leadership he recruited some of Chicago's best musical and production talent to join him in producing a CD and videos.

One hundred percent of the profits from the sale of the first 5000 (that's right, five thousand!) CDs are being donated to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

I'm guessing that Doug was influenced by Watseka's veterans' service to our community. Doug's father is a Korean War era Army veteran. Doug is paying it forward - and we should too.

I am very proud of Doug and proud to provide the links at the end of this entry. I hope you like what you see. More importantly, I hope you'll purchase CDs knowing that you will be helping the new and improved Walter Reed National Military Medical Center provide the best possible care to our fellow citizens whose blank checks were cashed.

Please share information about the Blank Check Project. Please send it to a few of your friends, coworkers, and/or acquaintances you think might care. You veterans - send it to your friends.

I'll bet you, like me, know many people who are moved by music. I'll wager you, like me, know lots of folks who enjoy doing good. Let's get people involved!

Thank you Doug, and all of you.

Here's the Blank Check Project's website:

I'm also providing a link to a very professionally done video. Watsekans may see a few familiar faces. The music is incredible (don't worry, Rod, there is neither twang nor singing through the nose):

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Jack R. Oakley

Jack Oakley was a Watseka band director/teacher. He was a good man.

Years ago, in the 1970s, Mrs. Oakley told me her husband had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross during World War II. 

The Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded to members of our Armed Forces who exhibit "heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.”  I wondered for years what Mr. Oakley did to earn his. I did some digging . . .

Mr. Oakley served with the U.S. Army Air Force's famous Jolly Rogers, a bomber group. The Jolly Rogers' website has a picture of Technical Sergeant Jack R. Oakley receiving the award. Look at the first picture on this link: 

From what I can tell, the fifth and sixth soldiers from the left (in the picture) are wearing Technical Sergeant’s stripes and rockers.  With a little more internet research, I was able to confirm that one of those men is Watseka's Mr. Oakley.  

Jack R. Oakley was a crew member on Charles Whitlock's B-24 bomber.  In a lengthy interview captured by Rutgers University, Mr. Whitlock said he spent most of his WWII career (over 50 missions) with the same crew.  Each crew member received the Distinguished Flying Cross for an incredible engagement in April 1943. On a reconnaissance mission, Mr. Oakley's B-24 was attacked by twelve enemy fighters. The crew shot down five attackers and completed its mission with a severely damaged plane. 

On May 27, 1943, Mr. Oakley’s heroism made the newspapers. Specifically, page 7 of The Garfieldian (a Chicago paper):

May 27 1943  . . . Two West Side Fliers Receive Valor Citations:

Two West siders, one a staff sergeant and the other a technical sergeant, have been awarded distinguished flying crosses.  Staff Sergeant John F Burkhardt, 20, son of Mr. and Mrs. John W. Burkhardt, 5657 Quincy St., a Flying Fortress gunner, received the distinguished flying cross with an oak leaf cluster for service in Africa, according to a letter received by his parents. The letter dated April 24 states the award was made for shooting down two German planes and damaging six others during an air raid over German installations.

Technical Sergeant Jack R. Oakley, son of Mrs. Anne Humphrey [?], 4350 W Van Buren, received the flying cross for extraordinary achievement in a flight over Wewak, New Guinea, the Southwest Pacific area quarters announced. The entire crew of the Liberator bomber of which Oakley was a member received the award.

The citation read in part:

“This combat crew of a B-24 bomber was engaged in an armed reconnaissance mission when their plane was intercepted by a formation of from 10 to 12 fighters. During the ensuing engagement the gunners kept up a steady fire at the enemy planes and succeeded in destroying five of them. The courage, ability, and devotion to duty shown by this combat crew are in keeping with the finest tradition of the service.”

Sergeant Oakley formerly was with an insurance company.  He has been in the service 18 months.

The Austin News and The Garfieldian carried a story several weeks ago when he had a narrow escape as a shell tore through the plane's fuselage and exploded in a parachute.

Imagine what Mr. Oakley's mother must have thought when she read that article.  One plane attacked by ten to twelve fighters? Shells ripping into the fuselage? Mr. Oakley's letters home were probably not so informative.

The fight for which Mr. Oakley received the Distinguished Flying Cross was immortalized in a U.S. Army Air Force recruiting advertisement.

It is fascinating that young men, many probably never having left their Midwestern towns, traveled across the world to risk death for our Country.  It is humbling that one of those men settled in our little town, far from the excitement and heroism of his war time service, and taught us how to sit up straight and play music. 

We should all spend a few minutes telling somebody else about Jack Oakley.  If a little bit of him rubbed off on a lot of other people, we'd all be in pretty good shape.

Whitlock interview:

The Garfieldian article:

For close-ups of the recruiting ad see:

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day, 2012

Each year, on one day in May, we are asked to commemorate the men and women who gave their lives in the service of our Nation.  Americans of nearly every generation have given their lives in service to us. 

We owe those who died, and their families, our eternal gratitude.

We can remember the fallen by the recognition of a few. Four men from Iroquois County (this is not all-inclusive):

Jack Redman was a star athlete at Watseka Community High School. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1943, after attending and playing football for the University of Illinois. Jack Redman was one of 1009 Marines who died on Tarawa. Tarawa was a horrific battle; the first in the Island Hopping Campaign. Until recently, Jack Redman remained on Tarawa with about 130 of his comrades.

Like Jack Redman, Marion Pence knowingly volunteered for extremely hazardous duty. Pence entered the United States Army in 1942 and volunteered to become a paratrooper.  He was assigned to the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the legendary 82nd Airborne Division.  He was wounded on D-Day, within hours of parachuting into Normandy. He died of those wounds several days later.  He rests in Gilman.

The Hutchinson family of Sheldon lost two sons. Charles and Bernard Hutchinson both entered the United States Navy.  I couldn’t find much information about Bernard, except that he listed a young wife in Watseka as his next-of-kin. Charles was listed as missing for more than sixty years. The submarine on which he served was only recently found and identified.

We can learn the names of other U.S. service members who died. For most, we can learn something of who they were. What we cannot know, and we can only wonder, is who they might have been. In his famous eulogy delivered on Iwo Jima, the Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn said: “Under one of these Christian crosses, or beneath a Jewish Star of David, there may rest now a man who was destined to be a great prophet . . . to find the way, perhaps, for all to live in plenty, with poverty and hardship for none . . .”    

We live, and raise our children, in a world in which people hate us for being Americans. Yet, rather than pulling together and holding ourselves out as a people of peace and justice, we still divide ourselves on economic, racial, religious, political and other lines. Our discourse is often visceral to the point of absurdity - and mean to the point of stupidity.

Rabbi Gittelsohn, again:  Whosoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or who thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery. To this then, as our solemn sacred duty, do we the living now dedicate ourselves: To the right of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, of White men and Negroes alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price . . .We here solemnly swear this shall not be in vain. Out of this and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this, will come, we promise, the birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere.”

I submit that our debt of gratitude to men and women like Jack Redman, Marion Pence, and the Hutchinsons must be repaid by more than a once-a-year observance.  We should, in payment to them, treat each other with dignity and respect.  

For more on Jack Redman see:

For more on Marion Pence see:

For more on Bernard and Charles Hutchinson see:

Illinois’ WWII Marine, Navy and Coast Guard Casualties:

Iroquois County’s WWII Army casualties (The Air Force was still part of the Army):

Rabbi Gittelsohn  (a must read):