Leo Alumnus Bernie Pepping, Class of 1957 watches members of Chicago's Own 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines solemnly fold the flag for the relatives of Cpl. John Fardy, USMCR and Leo Class of 1940 at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. ( photo NBC 5 Chicago)
It's been more than 65 years since Marine Corporal John Fardy was killed on the beaches of Okinawa in a battle with Japanese forces, but his brave actions were remembered at a gravesite ceremony in Alsip Monday.
Fardy is considered a hero for throwing himself onto an enemy grenade and absorbing the blast, therefore saving the lives of his comrades while sacrificing his own. Then President Harry Truman posthumously recognized him with the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest honor, for his bravery.
Fardy's living relatives, some of his fellow soldiers and classmates from the Leo High School Class of 1940, gathered at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Alsip Monday for a rededication of his gravesite.
Many of the gravesites for the WWII soldiers dubbed the "The Greatest Generation" are modest at best, and don't begin to describe their many accomplishments. The hope is to place a Medal of Honor designation on Fardy's marker to fully honor a hero who gave his life for his country.
"This ceremony is so meaningful because we see how his life impacted so many people," McGuire's niece, Anne Thomas McGuire, said. "It really makes me realize how important it is for all of us to really appreciate what the men in service are doing for our country." Sharon Wright NBC Chicago
Hannah Kohat's feature in today's Southtown Star links the Leo Men of the 1940's to the young Lions of 2011. Sgt. Jauwan M. Hall, USMC ( Leo '04) who is now the Marine Corps Recruiter at the station at 712 E. 87th Street, following his multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan paid tribute to fellow Marine and Leo Lion and the family of John Fardy along with Leo seniors. The Southtown Star story follows in full.
When the telegram came notifying Martin and Mary Fardy that their son had been killed in action in World War II, there were no details about his death.( emphases my own)
There was no mention that Marine Cpl. John Peter Fardy — a South Sider who had left to fight in Okinawa, Japan, just months earlier — had jumped on a live grenade, sacrificing his life to save those of his men.
The Fardys wouldn’t know until later that their son, his life cut short at age 22, was up for a Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroics.
Through the decades, there have been others who had no way of knowing Fardy was a Medal of Honor recipient, either. That’s why his story was being recounted Monday by military historian and writer Dr. Terrence Barrett.
There had been nothing on the headstone of Fardy’s grave at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Worth Township to mark his sacrifice until Monday, when the headstone was rededicated at a ceremony with full military honors. More than 200 people attended, including nieces, nephews and cousins of Fardy.
“My mom, grandma and aunt would be thrilled,” said Fardy’s nephew, John Martin, of Tinley Park. “The first time I brought my grandmother here, she hit her knees and started crying.”
According to Barrett, after Fardy’s death in Okinawa on May 7, 1945, his body wasn’t even returned home in time for his memorial service. The Leo High School graduate’s family was presented with his Medal of Honor in 1946, according to the U.S. Marine Corps website. His body didn’t come home from Okinawa until 1949, Barrett said.
For decades, no one walking past Fardy’s grave could tell an American World War II hero was buried there. When fellow Leo High School grad Jim Furlong found that out, he and his fellow alumni and members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart made it their mission to get Fardy the recognition he deserved.
They had the Medal of Honor inscription added a couple of weeks ago, leading to Monday’s ceremony.
“It’s amazing how many people showed up today,” said Rich Martin, another of Fardy’s nephews, also of Tinley Park.
Martin said that although his uncle died before Martin was born, he remembers visiting the grave while growing up.
“He was my mom’s brother,” Martin said. “We used to come here to visit and clear his gravesite.”
Barrett said Fardy was a quiet, modest and hard-working kid whose parents had emigrated from Ireland. He was drafted by the Marines in 1943 and became proficient with a Browning automatic rifle, which, Barrett said, meant he was destined for the thick of the war zones.
On May 7, 1945, in Okinawa, Hardy and his men came under fire, and he huddled them into a drainage ditch. When a hand grenade was thrown in, Fardy covered it with his own body to absorb the explosion.
Fardy’s cousin, Ann Powen, of Oak Lawn, remembers the day she and her family received the news of his death. She said they were all waiting for him to come home, and “got that call instead.”
Barrett said Fardy’s platoon commander recommended Fardy for the Medal of Honor.
The Medal of Honor citation written by then-President Harry Truman was read to the crowd Monday by John Martin. The citation said that “Corporal Fardy, by his prompt decision and resolute spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of certain death, had rendered valiant service. … He gallantly gave his life for his country.”
Fardy apparently had been proud of his service. A high school classmate, John Hanlon, of Chicago’s Beverly community, said Fardy joined the Marines after high school, but “he came back to class one day to show off his uniform.”
In keeping with Fardy’s Irish roots, the Irish national anthem was performed at Monday’s ceremony. Veterans presented the colors, there was a 21-gun salute and “Taps” was played by bagpipers. When “The Marines’ Hymn” was sung, the eldest of veterans stood up straight and tall and belted out the tune.
“This is a plain and simple ‘thank you,’ ” said Illinois Military Order of the Purple Heart Cmdr. Dan Finn, who lost his left leg in the Vietnam War.
“It’s a great honor that we can give to one of our fallen heroes,” said Ray Perison, a World War II Army veteran who said he fought in Europe from 1944 to ’45 and was imprisoned in Nuremberg for five months.
Tony Matkovich, another former prisoner of war who fought for the Army in Germany from 1943 to ’45, said, “I’m honored to be here. It’s too bad they waited so long to honor him the way it should have been done.”
“God bless his soul,” said William Stefanu, a World War II combat engineer. “He did his duty for us.”
Seniors from Leo High School’s football team also were on hand, standing out in their black and orange jerseys and saying they were proud to honor an alum.
“I just want to say thank you,” Eric Owens said.
“I’m just happy to see alumni sticking together,” Jamal Boulden said. “We have a lot of vets.”
The crowd sang the Leo High School fight song to close the ceremony.
The Oak Lawn Patch covered the ceremony as well and will appear shortly.
Leo High School thanks Sharon Wright of NBC 5 Chicago and Ms. Hannah Kohat of the Southtown Star for their poignant and fitting tributes to Cpl. John P. Fardy.
God Bless All Who Serve and Have Served.