Here is the text of a plaque located near the war memorial in my hometown in Massachusetts:
Roman Walter Sadlowski, US Navy, Born June 15, 1920, Died December 7, 1941 Who Gave His Life at Pearl Harbor in Defense of His Country. His Example Will Always Remain An Inspiration of Faithful Performance of Duty. Dedicated May 17, 1942
Who is Roman Walter Sadlowski? And why was this plaque specially made for him?
I have no idea the answer to either question. All I can say is God bless the Roman Sadlowskis of the world. They made the ultimate sacrifice in America's War on Evil.
No, I do not know a thing about Roman. He was born one year before my father, so perhaps I would have known his children if he had lived. But no, I have no real knowledge about him.
He probably was the son of immigrants as was my father, and so he is surely like someone who I would have known in my own family. Uncle Roman. Who died at Pearl Harbor.
If that had been my father there at Pearl Harbor instead of Roman Sadlowski, however, I would not be here today.
No, I know not a thing about Roman Sadlowski. But I do know that I owe him - a complete stranger - everything.
It is interesting that the plaque was dedicated so shortly after Roman died. Perhaps he was the first casualty of the war from my town. Perhaps the people had no idea how many more would pay the ultimate price in a war that many did not see coming, robbing us of our fathers and sons and uncles and nephews and grandfathers.
Every one of us has a Roman Walter Sadlowski to thank for our freedom. The rough statistics are that 25,000 died in the American Revolution. 630,000 total on both sides died in the Civil War. 120,000 died in World War I. 430,000 died in World War II. 33,000 died in the ‘forgotten’ Korean War. 58,000 died in Vietnam. 4,400 in Iraq, and now more than 1,500 in Afghanistan.
So for each of us living in freedom today, we have one part of our soul invested in each Roman Walter Sadlowski.
Was Roman a member of a family with brothers and sisters? Are his brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews an other descendants alive today? There surely could be some family members around town with one of those old black-and-white pictures of Roman upon entry into the Navy, like millions of guys who joined.
What was Roman's goal in his short life? After all, he died very young, only 21.
I have no idea.
Since he was born in 1920, he probably had a pretty good youth but his teenage years were lived during the depression of the 1930s. Perhaps he enlisted in order to get away from the problems in the economy. Perhaps he was just a patriotic soul who wanted to serve his country. Who knows?
I certainly don’t. I never knew Roman.
Indeed few of us know much about those who have died for our freedom except for those in our direct family. Like Uncle Roman who died in the war. Whose black-and-white enlistment picture is there on the dining room wall.
No, for tens of millions of us, those who perished in service are an abstraction. Most died little known, just ordinary citizens living ordinary lives and dying in the most extraordinary fashion, defending the precious freedom that the rest of us enjoy.
Oh, sure there is the occasional Pat Tillman, the famous football player who went to Afghanistan and who was killed there, and who is known to many. But most of our heroes have passed quietly into eternity, having lost the opportunity to fulfill their dreams like I have been able to fulfill mine. Because they fought for my freedom to do so.
We see their pictures occasionally on television, or read their names on memorial plaques and monuments. We see their photos even today, having died recently in Iraq or Afghanistan. And then they are gone. We do not know them. Their loss belongs to their families, a loss that the rest of us will never bear and their families always will.
But how could we possibly know them? After all, they were just guys who went into battle and died. There is no way that we can remember them all.
No, I did not know much about Roman. But I will hold him in my heart. I will “adopt” him as my ‘freedom guard’. Which each of us should do.
Indeed, every American should visit a war memorial this Monday and write down the name of one fallen soldier not known to us. And keep that name close to your heart. Because he gave his life so that we could have ours.
In the meantime, the best way to honor them is to attend a Memorial Day parade and services. And think hard, that if they had not served and died, that the day would not be necessary in the first place. And that we would not be enjoying our freedom.
Roman Walter Sadlowski. May he rest in peace. And may God bless him.