Sharing WWII Memories Long Distance

Jan 31, 2014

Roger Craigmile holds a keepsake from his father's WWII unit

Children of military veterans sometimes don’t learn much about their parents’ service until after their passing. That’s the case for a northern Illinois man, who is now sharing records about his father’s World War II unit with another person halfway across the country.

Roger Craigmile possesses many papers, medals and bags of other items his father collected while serving during World War II.

Craigmile’s dad Paul served in the Army. He was part of the 181st field artillery battalion.

“The 181st and 947 was a group that started out in New Guinea, and then they were involved in the liberation of the Philippine Islands,” Craigmile said.

Paul Craigmile (obituary photo)

Roger Craigmile, who now lives in the family home in Malta, says his dad never really opened up about his time in the military. He also doesn’t think his father was particularly fond of being stationed overseas.

“I don’t think he really wanted to be there – like I don’t think anybody really likes to be in a war. But it was a duty that you had to do, and his number came up and he went it,” Craigmile said.

After completing his service, Craigmile’s dad returned to Illinois to become a farmer. Over time, reunions for the unit began to surface. But, at first, Paul Craigmile was reluctant to go.

“And then finally, mom kind of persuaded dad to go, and he had a pretty good time, meeting all the old friends and guys he had been with and stuff,” Craigmile said.

Craigmile’s mom then took an active role in recruiting other members of the unit to attend reunions. Outside of the interaction with his old war buddies, Craigmile says his dad still didn’t talk about it too much. It was only till after his dad died five years ago that Craigmile began finding more information and items about this group of soldiers.

Last year, that interest turned into bit of a side project when the phone rang.

“I looked at the caller ID, and I didn’t recognize that name or number. There was a woman on the other end, and we began talking. Here it turns out that her father was in the 181st Field Artillery Battalion. He was a lieutenant. He was one of dad’s commanding officers,” Craigmile said.

That phone call came from the east coast.

“We spoke at length, initially. Roger was in a similar situation. He said when got through more of his father’s things, if it was related, he would send it on to me”

That quote is from Jeanne San Fanandre, who lives in the New York City area. The similar situation she mentioned was that her father, Walter, was also reluctant to share stories about his time in the service.

“He would tell us the good things, like how much he enjoyed the Navy ship and food, specifically,” San Fanandre said.

Like Roger, San Fanandre started to do a little more digging after her father’s death and eventually came across the Craigmile name. Since making that connection, she has received items from Roger that give her a better sense of what life was like for her dad while serving.

“He was a Forward Observer. And in this last document that Roger sent me, there’s dates when he went, when he was appointed, and some of the things that he had sighted,” San Fanandre said.

San Fanandre says it’s been nice to be able to share these stories with her family, and a younger Veteran who was close friends with her father.

Brandon Vinyard is with the National Museum of the Pacific War. A couple of years ago, the museum established the Society of Sons & Daughters of World War II Veterans. The database allows decedents of these Veterans to look up their ancestors and their history of service.

Vinyard says they haven’t yet noticed a defined trend of people making these kinds of connections across the country. But he says he won’t be surprised if they start to see more of it.

“We’re coming up faster than we think on seeing that last World War II Veteran die,” Vinyard said.

And with many Veterans still reluctant to talk at length about their experience, Vinyard anticipates more of their children will want to learn more about that experience.

Vinyard says, like the Vets have done themselves, they want to start holding annual get-togethers for children of World War II service members.

As for people like Roger Craigmile, it’s not necessarily about creating a large network of connections. It’s about keeping the memories of his father’s unit alive.

“I don’t think the torch has been passed on to me. I’m just a guardian of this little section of history, Craigmile said.

Craigmile adds that he will send information to loved ones of any Vets who request it.