I will never forget the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Just a week away from returning to campus for my sophomore year at The Ohio State University, I turned on the television at my parents’ house to catch up on the sporting events from the previous night only to discover a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower in New York City.
After telling my mom what happened, thinking it was an accident, the innocence of my generation was lost when a second plane hit the South Tower 18 minutes later. At that point, I, like millions of Americans, realized we were under attack. In all, 2,977 people were killed during the Sept. 11 attacks.
Up until that point, the thought of someone attacking the country on our own soil never crossed my mind. Unfortunately, for the Greatest Generation, it brought back memories of Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese forces attacked our military base at Pearl Harbor.
I can’t imagine what was going through the minds of the men and women on and near the naval base that morning.
Following “a date which will live in infamy” in which more than 2,400 Americans were killed during the surprise attack by our former ally, the U.S. entered World War II.
By the time the war was over, 407,316 American heroes had died, including 67 Delaware County residents.
Since we owe all of these local heroes a debt we will never be able to repay, I’ve made it a mission of mine to try to help honor four of them by reaching out to the readers of The Delaware Gazette.
Back in April 2016 while working as a reporter for the Urbana Daily Citizen, I wrote two stories centered around how citizens in foreign nations — the Netherlands, France, Luxembourg and Belgium — make it a priority to take care of the graves of American soldiers buried in their countries. These heroes, who never made it home, died not only for our freedom here in the U.S., but for the freedom of those across the world. That fact is not lost on the Dutch, French, Luxembourgers and Belgians.
These European countries are home to American military cemeteries, which are meticulously maintained by local residents.
One of the stories I’m most proud of writing as a journalist was written four years ago about one of those cemeteries in particular — the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial.
Located in the Dutch city of Margraten, the cemetery has been watched over by the people of the Netherlands ever since they were freed by Allied Forces from Nazi Germany occupation on May 5, 1945. The Dutch have been paying their respects to the American soldiers who died in nearby battles during WWII by adopting their graves.
I’ve visited my fair share of cemeteries over the years here in America, and the condition of some of the graves can be disheartening, so the fact there are people overseas who have taken care of graves of American soldiers since 1945 is a wonderful tribute to these American heroes.
While writing the article, I had the privilege of talking to Dutchman Sebastiaan Vonk, who adopted his first grave at the age of 13. At that age, a cemetery would have been the last place you would have found me, so I applaud him and the other youngsters who spend their free time tending to the graves of fallen Americans.
“Ever since the end of WWII, people have adopted the graves of these men and women out of a deeply heartfelt gratitude for the sacrifices that they made for our freedom,” Vonk told me back in 2016. “They truly are our liberators and heroes.”
Vonk also shared with me that many adopters have been unable to locate the one thing in particular they’ve sought out to find – a photograph of the American soldier who died so the Netherlands could be liberated.
If Vonk hadn’t already impressed me with his willingness to adopt a grave at the age of 13, one year later at the age of 14 in 2007, he developed the Fields of Honor Database, a website that displays photographs and information about the American soldiers buried in the Netherlands, France, Luxembourg and Belgium.
Utilizing the site back in 2016, I researched all the Champaign County residents buried in those cemeteries and wrote about one local solider whose photograph had yet to be located.
Within 24 hours of the article appearing in the Daily Citizen, three photographs of the young man who served in the Army were located in three locations throughout Urbana.
Now, I’m hoping luck strikes again. In researching Delaware County residents buried in the American cemeteries overseas, I discovered photographs are still being sought for four local heroes: Joseph W. Bobo, George W. Downing, Lawrence C. Jolliff and Jerry D. Richardson.
In hopes a Gazette reader may know one of the men or someone related to them, I’d like to share some information about each soldier..
According to the Fields of Honor Database, Bobo, whose hometown is listed as Delaware County, was born in 1923 to Benjamine and Belle Bobo. He had one sister, Katherine M. Bobo.
A staff sergeant, Bobo served as a radar operator in the 50th Squadron (314th Troop Carrier Group). He was killed in action on Sept. 18, 1944, in Ochten, Holland.
Bobo was the recipient of the Purple Heart and an Air Medal with oak leaf cluster. He was laid to rest in the Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium.
Downing was born on Feb. 12, 1926. His hometown is listed as Delaware County, and the only family member noted is his father, H.A. Downing.
A private in the 357th Infantry Regiment (90th Infantry Division), Downing died of wounds sustained during the war on Jan. 17, 1945, in Luxembourg. He is buried in the Luxembourg American Cemetery.
Jolliff was born in 1920 to Benjamin K. and Maude E. (Moehn) Jolliff. A resident of Delaware County, Jolliff married Ethel L. Crawford. He had six brothers (Paul R., Francis E., Robert L., Thomas K., Richard W. and James L.) and three sisters (Eulaila H. Shirk, Gladys L. Disbennett and Mary C. Pounds).
A private in the 304th Infantry Regiment (76th Infantry Division), Jolliff died of wounds sustained during the war on March 14, 1945, in Wittlich, Germany.
A recipient of the Purple Heart, Jolliff is buried in the Luxembourg American Cemetery.
Richardson was born in 1919 to Ulysses G.S. and Alma M. (Textor) Richardson. A resident of Delaware County, Richardson married Anna P. Richardson, and the couple had a daughter named Barbara A. Richardson. He had five sisters (Mabel A., Nellie E., Rachel, Ruth E. and Shirley A.) and two brothers (Joseph B. and Raymond A.).
A private in the 393rd Infantry Regiment (99th Infantry Division), Richardson was killed in action on Dec. 17, 1944, near Elsenborn, Germany.
A recipient of the Purple Heart, Richardson is buried in the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium.
If anyone reading this column has a photograph of one of these American heroes, please email it to email@example.com. If you need help scanning a photograph or sending it to the Fields of Honor, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will do everything in my power to help honor these young men who died protecting not only our freedom, but the freedom of people all across the world.
Putting a face to the name etched in white marble on these four men’s Latin cross headstones is the least we can do as Americans to honor their sacrifice to our nation.
Joshua Keeran is editor of The Delaware Gazette. Reach him by email at email@example.com or by phone at 740-413-0900.