I owe my knowledge of the missing memorial plaque to the devoted memory of Maria Fry Race, granddaughter of Agnes Tonila Gooch, who often spoke of her brother Johnny, Maria’s great uncle, who was honored on it. The State Journal-Register newspaper just carried two brief items about our quest for the plaque.
Whereas the Lithuanians who fought for the U.S. in World War I were very recent immigrants, World War II was fought by the U.S.-born sons of our local immigrants.
One of those who died was George Sneckus of Springfield, the son of immigrants George and Nelly Sneckus. After graduating from Lanphier High School, he earned the rank of staff sergeant in the US Army Air Force, 100th Bomb Group, and was a “waist gunner” on a B 17 Bomber when he was shot down and killed over Germany only a few weeks before the Normandy invasion. Young George was not quite 22 when his body was recovered by the Germans from a farmer’s field and buried in a mass grave.
George’s niece Teresa (Sneckus) Gregoire, daughter of George’s older brother Julius, learned of her uncle’s brave sacrifice while fighting to save England from invasion, and of the retrieval and re-burial of his remains in Belgium with many other U.S. aviators. In June 2001, Teresa took her mother, aunt, and two cousins to visit and decorate George’s grave in the Neuville-En-Condroz Permanent Cemetery near Liege, Belgium. Teresa says it was a very moving experience because no one from George’s family had ever visited his grave. Teresa had communicated with helpful British and German sources, and even located the daughters of the two other men killed on George’s plane so she could visit and decorate their graves.
John P. (Johnny) Tonila was one of nine children of Lithuanian-born coal miner John George Tonila and Agatha (Mankus) Tonila, who immigrated separately around 1900. A local Golden Gloves boxing champ, Johnny drove a delivery truck for a living. He was not quite 32 and engaged to be married when he gave his life in the Battle of Monte Cassino near Rome, Italy in May 1944, while serving as a cook in a mess tent with the U.S Army 338th Field Artillery Battalion.
A Technician Fifth Grade, Johnny was not drafted—he enlisted in 1939 and served in the Philippines before the U.S. entered World War II in Dec. 1941. Beloved and never forgotten by his many sisters and brothers, Johnny is also remembered in absentia by great-niece Maria Fry Race, whom he never met. Maria believes he is honored on St. Vincent de Paul’s missing “war dead” plaque.
Steven E. Buckus of Sangamon County was a private first class in the U.S. Army, and is buried in Illinois. We hope to get more information about his life and death.
John Z. Urbis of Sangamon County, a technical sergeant with the U.S. Army, is buried in the Cambridge Permanent Cemetery, Cambridge, England.
The following is the list of all Sangamon County Lithuanian-Americans who served in World War II based on painstaking research of public records by Tim Race of Elmhurst, Ill., and submissions in italics from descendants. Those who lost their lives are in bold.
Leo Ambrose, Frank L. Arnish, Edward J. Babeckis, Joseph J Babeckis, Adam Bender, Vetout C. Bernotas, William V. Blazis, Walter Brazitis, Stephen E. Buckus, Anton P. Casper, William J. Casper, John Chenski, Edward C. Chernis, Joseph J. Chernis, Alfred F. Cizauskas, Domenick Detrubis, Florie J. Evinsky, Joseph J. Evinsky, Charles J. Galman, John Grigiski, Thomas J. Kasper, Joseph P. Kellus, Stanley Klickna, Barney J. Kurlytis, John Kutselas, Albert Kwedar (served the U.S. Army as a doctor), Thaddeus Lamsargis, Joseph J. Lauduskie, William J. Laukaitis, Frank I. Makarauskas, Edward J. Masus, Victor Matula, Joseph Martinkus, Thomas L. Micklus, William J. Micklus, Walter J. Mikelonis, William D. L. Morris, Joseph R. Morris, George A. Patkus, Frank W. Pupkis, George A. Rackauskas, Jack R. Relzda, Joseph J. Repske, George E. Rudis, John F. Rumsas, Alban C. Shadis, William J. Shaudis, Frank S. Shimkus, John D. Shimkus, Joseph J Shimkus, William C. Shimkus, Anthony G Sirtout, George Sneckus, Edward J. Stanks, Anthony P. Stockus, Charles J. Stockus, Martin Stockus, Frank J. Surgis, William J. Tater, John P. Tonila, William J. Urban, John Z. Urbis, Anthony F. Usalus, Joseph J. Usalis, Walter Yakus, Stanley Yanor, Stanley Yuscius, Tony Yuscius (b. 1923, served with the U.S. Army in the Middle Eastern theater and earned three bronze service stars), Anthony J. Yuskavich.
Frank I. Makarauskas of Springfield was the U.S.-born son of immigrants Stanley and Agnes Makarauskas and the much younger brother of Lithuanian-born Michael and John (Makarauskas) Mack, Springfield’s self-made McDonald’s restaurant mogul. Frank’s widow Dorothy (Roth) Makarauskas, formerly of Springfield, reports that Frank was drafted into the U.S. Air Force right after he graduated from Feitshans High School in 1943 at age 18. Due to his lengthy training to learn to navigate a B-24 bomber, World War II was over before Frank saw combat. But that training changed his life. After the war, Frank earned an electrical engineering degree at Michigan State University on the G.I. Bill, becoming the first in his family to attend college. He later worked as an engineer for Central Illinois Power Co. in Mattoon and Marion, and for the Michigan Department of Commerce in Lansing.
William J. Urban of Springfield served in the U.S. Navy. (Photo courtesy of granddaughter Debbie Davis Ritter.)
Stanley J. Yanor of Springfield was the son of a Lithuanian immigrant who worked at the coal mine at the corner of Chatham Road and W. Washington St. After attending Du Buois Grade School and Springfield High School, Stanley enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as a sergeant in the famous Battle of the Bulge. Later, Stanley’s Lithuanian language skills gave him a role as a translator after the Allies invaded Germany, where tens of thousands of Lithuanian refugees had fled as the Red Army reached their country in the summer of 1944. After the war, Stanley owned an insurance adjusting business briefly in Springfield, then in Champaign. (Information from Donald Casper.)
Tony Yezdauski of Springfield served as a sergeant with the U.S. Army HQ BTRY 229 AAA in New Guinea, specifically the island of Morotai, beginning in March 1942. Daughter Marilynn Doherty reports that she was born in September 1942, so did not meet her dad until she was almost four years old. Tony participated in the Asiatic Pacific Theatre Campaign, and made the most of his time off, according to Marilynn, who says Tony fished and shared his catch with other soldiers, and came home with many beautiful shells.