Earl was born at the family home located on Warren Street in Hillside on May 20, 1926, the last of five siblings, born to father Julius, and mother Anna. Both his parents had immigrated to the U.S. as teenagers from Eastern Europe in 1907-1908. His parents met in Chicago, married, bought a house and started their family in then rural Hillside. By all accounts, life on the Hillside homestead was good, as hard-working European parents created their version of the American dream. His father drove a truck, while his mother busied herself with all the various home making necessities common to immigrant parents. They had a huge garden with every vegetable imaginable, fruit bushes and trees, and chickens. Anna preserved and canned everything for year-round consumption. Everything was made from scratch: bread, fruit preserves, and especially my dad’s favorite, homemade apple strudel, his mother Anna’s specialty. Sunday dinners were a big family affair with the main menu, breaded pork tenderloin, dumplings, sauerkraut, always homemade bread, and I’m sure either grandma’s strudel or her homemade kolaches. Earl related how a beer truck would home deliver his father’s favorite brew, “Patrick Henry,” each week, and pick up the empties. I’m sure grandpa and grandma worked very hard, but they also knew how to live well.
Although the depression struck when Earl was a still a child, he always said there was a sense of abundance in his family as financial hardship did not affect his upbringing in any significant negative way. There was certainly no lack of a loving home environment. By all accounts, he had a happy childhood and thrived as a student and athlete at Sunnyside grade school in Berkeley. The neighborhood was typical of that era, filled with Irish, Italian, German, Croatian, and Serbian sur names. Earl got along with everybody. Then, as now, everyone loved Earl. He attended Mass every Sunday at the Catholic seminary chapel on Hillside Ave., prior to the building of St. Domitilla. He commuted to Proviso high school in Maywood by hopping on the Aurora-Elgin electric line which is now the Prairie Path.
His life took an abrupt turn at the onset of WWII. Surely the storm clouds of compulsory military service must have weighed heavily on him in his high school years as the war raged in Europe and the South Pacific.
In 1943, at the age of seventeen, he made the life-altering decision to enlist in the Marines. To put this into some sort of context, surely he knew the casualty rate among marine enlistees was quite high, as the marines were tasked with the unenviable task of storming the beachheads of heavily fortified Japanese-held islands.
My dad’s military service lasted two years, from March 1944 until April 1946. During his active duty, he engaged in several horrific battles as his 1st division marines painstakingly took control of Japanese controlled islands in the South Pacific. The worst battle of WWII in terms of casualties was the Battle of Okinawa, which lasted 98 grueling days where the Japanese were entrenched in caves and simply would not surrender. The marines had to take the island a square foot at a time. The battle was one of the bloodiest in the Pacific, with approximately 160,000 casualties combined: at least 50,000 Allied and 84,166–117,000 Japanese, including drafted Okinawans wearing Japanese uniforms. 149,425 Okinawans were killed, roughly half of the estimated pre-war 300,000 local population.
The marines finally took the island in July, 1945. Having survived the main battles, Earl could consider himself a lucky survivor. However, his luck ran out one fateful day. While securing an area, an enemy combatant appeared out of hiding and Earl was on the wrong end of a grenade explosion. He took mortar fragments in both legs.
For posterity’s sake, here is a brief synopsis of Earl’s military experience as related by him, Christmas 2009:
“You were allowed to join at age 17 if you had your parents' permission. I went to Camp Pendleton in San Diego - trained in boot camp for 8 weeks, then 4 weeks, and then shipped out. I was overseas for 25 months in total. I started as a Private then was promoted to Corporal. I served as an acting Sergeant and would have been promoted but my captain was killed.
I came in as a replacement marine in Peleliu. Before Peleliu, I met up with my brother Julius (U.S. Army) in Guadacanal. After Peleliu I went to the Russell Islands to train until Okinawa. I was on Okinawa from April 1 - June 23. We docked on one side to trick the enemy but in the night went around via the China Sea to the other side in order to invade that AM. We walked right in. I was part of the first invaders in Okinawa.
I was injured with shrapnel in both thighs, lip and face. It came from a hand grenade (I saw the person who threw it). We were in an area resting, waiting for further orders. The Japanese didn't know or want to surrender. I saw two of them in a sugar field. I knew I killed one of them but the second person threw a hand grenade after I had shot the first one. Then men to the left and right of me were also hit. The grenade went off 5 feet in front of me. The medic came quickly.
After my injury I went on a piper plane and flew to an army hospital for surgery. I then was on the USS Faithful (hospital ship) that took me to Saipan. I did rehab on Saipan to learn how to walk (that took 2 months). Then I was transferred to Guam. The war ended in my time between Saipan and Guam.
After the treaty was signed, I went to Tinson, China to protect because Japan was still fighting the Chinese.
When I came home my dog recognized me long before I reached his house. He was so excited to see me, he peed on my leg. I then worked in a garage with my friend before deciding to go to trade school.”
After getting a job in maintenance at school district 87 in Berkeley, he quickly rose through the ranks to become the Superintendent of Maintenance, where he met my mother Suzanne, then a young school teacher. They married in 1957, and raised six children, all boys, at their home at 525 Irving Ave. in Hillside. Loving father of Peter (Paula), Michael (Donna), James (Jeannie), Christopher (Faith), Thomas, David (Colleen), and the late Mary Anne. Adoring grandfather of 13 (Alexandria, Adam, Eric, Natalia, Nadia, Colin, Elise, Fiona, Brendan, Katherine, Sarah, Emma and Caera.) An active member of St. Domitilla parish in Hillside since its founding.
In the mid-1960’s Earl was hired to be Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds at Triton College in River Grove, a position he held until his retirement.
Everyone reading this who knew Earl, even casually, recognizes the character of the person. He was a strong, kind, gentle soul. A man of few words, his presence alone commanded respect. His spirit was imbued with a Christ-consciousness few ever achieve. He never did understand the insanity of war, but perhaps by experiencing so much death and destruction, he was drawn closer to find a communion with Christ and live a righteous life. He prayed the rosary often. He was a daily communicant. He believed in the blessed sacraments with his whole being. In every way possible, he was a true soldier of Christ. There will never be another like him. He will be missed.
Funeral Services will be held Friday, September 10, with a Memorial Gathering from 8:30 AM until the time of prayers at 10:15 AM at Brust Funeral Home, 135 S. Main St., Lombard, proceeding to 11:00 AM Memorial Mass at St. Domitilla Catholic Church, 4940 Washington St, Hillside. Interment to follow at Queen of Heaven Cemetery, Hillside.
In lieu of flowers, memorials to your favorite charity in Earl’s memory would be appreciated.
Arrangements by Brust Funeral Home. Info 888-629-0094.
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