By Martin | Friday, May 27, 2016 | 6:39 AM
He is a forgotten man. He was born in St. Clairsville, Ohio. If you travel to the town of Nettuno, Italy, east of Anzio and about twenty miles outside of Rome, you will find an Amercian Battle Monument Cemetery. One of the dead buried there is Sylvester Antolak, Sergeant, U.S. Army, 15th Infantry, 3rd Division. On May 24, 1944, Sgt. Antolak was out in front of his squad when they came upon a German position. As he led the attack on the position he was wounded three times and knocked to the ground but continued his advance. He was killed after helping to clear the way for his company to advance.
He, too, is a forgotten man. He was born in Byesville, Ohio. If you travel to Byesville today, about eighty miles east of Columbus, you will find Greenwood Cemetery. One of the dead buried there is Herbert F. Christian, Private, U.S. Army, 15th Infantry, 3rd Division. On June 2, 1944, Private Christian was in a scout unit that was ambushed by sixty German riflemen, three machine guns, and three tanks. There were twelve men in his squad. Private Christian took it upon himself to charge the enemy and try to cover the retreat of his comrades. He killed several enemy soldiers, allowing the rest of his unit to escape. His valiant action cost him his life.
There is another forgotten man. He was born in Bivalve, New Jersey. If you visit Boston, Massachusetts and travel south along the coast for twenty miles you will enter the small town of Scituate. Go to Union Cemetery and you will find the grave of Elden H. Johnson, Private, U.S. Army, 15th Infantry, 3rd Division. On June 2, 1944, Private Johnson was with Private Christian in their battle near Valmontine, Italy. He also tried to distract the enemy long enough for the rest of the unit to retreat. Private Johnson killed five enemy soldiers and destroyed one of the machine gun nests before he was killed by fire from another enemy position.
These soldiers have several things in common. They were all killed in action. They were all awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, posthumously, for that action. They all served in the 3rd Division. You have probably never heard of any of them. There was not a movie or television mini-series made about their exploits. They are forgotten heroes but you have heard of one of their comrades in the 3rd Division. His name was Audie Murphy. Sgt. Antolak was even in the same company as Murphy.
Sylvester Antolak, Herbert Christian, and Elden Johnson never experienced a parade to welcome them home. The last image they had of this great country was from a troopship headed out of the harbor on what turned out to be a one-way trip to a foreign land. They died too young. War does that. Decorated soldiers tell us that the real heroes of any war are the ones who never came back. That is why we have Memorial Day. It reminds us of the sacrifices of forgotten heroes. It gives us the chance to be grateful. At least for a few minutes on one day of the year we can honor the memories of those who gave their lives for our freedom. Memorial Day is a reminder that we are the land of the free . . . and the home of the grave.