SPRINGFIELD, IL (09/13/2017) (readMedia)-- Story by Staff Sgt. Robert R. Adams, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs
For 75 years the Maywood Bataan Day Organization has held a memorial service to honor the Soldiers of the 192nd Tank Battalion and their families.
This years' service featured an award ceremony in addition to the annual wreath laying. The family of Sgt. Norman Spencer was given awards by Maj. Gen. Richard J. Hayes Jr., The Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard, and Consul General Generoso Colonge, Consulate General of the Philippines in Chicago. John Opolony and Ian Smith were also awarded the Medal of Merit by Hayes.
Marty Sanchez and Mary Burnitz, both members of the Spencer family, said receiving these awards after all these years was great.
"Our father, Norman's brother, worked very hard for many years to get everything together for these awards," said Burnitz. "Norman's enlistment paperwork was incorrect, which is why he never got these awards. My dad ensured they were fixed and today we accepted those awards as a family."
Sanchez said she was happy this year when a 97 year-old WWII veteran stood up and told a story during the service. She said having someone who was around at that time to speak was invaluable to the memorial service.
"Our father didn't tell us a lot about what happened to the Soldiers while we were growing up," said Sanchez. "It was hard for him to talk about it and so getting to hear stories here is always nice."
Sanchez and Burnitz also said they appreciated all the work Opolony and Smith did to gather information about each Soldier of the 192nd. In 1999, Smith and Opolony challenged their students with a project to collect information on the 192nd. Due to the local connection, the project far exceeded their expectations because the students felt closely connected to the men of the 192nd. Many of the men who had served lived, or were still living in the student's neighborhoods.
The Proviso East High School Bataan Commemorative Research Project has filled in the blanks for many family members wishing to know more about their lost loved ones' service. Today, a website (see link at bottom of article) containing video interviews and information on the 192nd, which Smith and Opolony keep up to date each year with new information.
During the service Hayes said their work with the Bataan Project has been outstanding.
"What these two have done for the families of the 192nd, by seeing this project through, is really special," said Hayes. "Without the efforts of Jim, Ian and their students, many of these Soldiers' stories would have never been told."
Smith said he is happy the Bataan Project has brought families happiness.
"I've heard from many family members that they knew nothing about their loved ones before our project existed," said Smith.
Opolony said the guys with the 192nd were forgotten by many people.
"The reason we started the website was because we wanted the families to know that they were not forgotten," said Opolony. "I plan to keep gathering information and adding it to the site."
"There is tons of information out there online," said Opolony. "If people don't preserve history it will be gone forever."
Opolony said he knew some of the Soldiers from the 192nd and it became very personal to him to not let them be forgotten.
"There are stories we never got that we wish we had," said Opolony. "The people died before we could ask them."
The Maywood Bataan Day Organization plans to continue having a part in preserving the memory of the 192nd along with Opolony and Smith by continuing the annual memorial service held in Maywood, Illinois, for many years to come.
Photo 1: Maj. Gen. Richard J. Hayes Jr., the Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard, presents the Bronze Star Medal to Clara Spencer-Fiedler, sister of Sgt. Norman Spencer, Sept. 10 during the 75th annual Maywood Bataan Day Memorial Service. The service is held each year to honor the sacrifice made by the Soldiers of the 192nd Tank Battalion during World War II. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Robert R. Adams, Public Affairs)
Photo 2: Maj. Gen. Richard J. Hayes Jr., the Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard, and the family of Sgt. Norman Spencer, a Soldier from the 192nd Tank Battalion, pose for a photo Sept. 10 in front of a 192nd Tank from World War II in Maywood, Illinois. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Robert R. Adams, Public Affairs)
Photo 3: Maj. Gen. Richard J. Hayes Jr., the Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard, prepares to lay a wreath in front of a 192nd Tank from World War II during the annual Maywood Batann Day Memorial Service in Maywood, Illinois Sept. 10. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Robert R. Adams, Public Affairs)
Photo 4: Mr. Al Provenzano, a World War II veteran stands to tell some stories Sept. 10 during the annual Maywood Bataan Day Memorial Service in Maywood, Illinois. Veterans from many wars throughout United States history were in attendance to honor the sacrifice made by the 192nd Tank Battalion in World War II. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Robert R. Adams, Public Affairs)