They went with songs to battle; they were young,
Straight of the limbs, straight of the eyes, stable and brilliant.
They were faithful to the end against all odds;
They fell against the enemy.
They will not grow old, as we who remain grow old:
Age will not tire them, nor will the years condemn.
At sunset and in the morning
There are many poems about war, and the excerpt quoted above is particularly poignant and speaks to me on this Memorial Day.
For the past few months I have worked to document Hobart and William Smith graduates who served in the military. This effort is being made in conjunction with this year’s Hobart Bicentenary. Many Hobart graduates were veterans – some from Geneva – and many died in the service of our nation.
During my research, I came across many interesting stories. Two, in particular, struck me.
First, during the Civil War, Benjamin Franklin McReynolds (1843-1907), Class of 1864, served as a lieutenant in the American Volunteers from 1862 to 1865. In 1865 he suffered from pneumonia and was in a Annapolis Military Hospital. After leaving the hospital he went to Washington, D.C. There he attended Ford’s Theater and was an eyewitness to the assassination of President Lincoln.
Second, I found out that the father of one of my nurses – I had colon surgery last year – not only attended Hobart, but was a POW during WWII.
Angelo J. Bianchi (1920-2008), Class of 1944, got draft notice in 1942, his second year at Hobart, and became a tail gunner on the B-24 Liberator bomber. Assigned to Italy, he performed a so-called easy mission – or “milk run” – on July 3, 1944. The target that day was the Mogasaia oil storage near Bucharest, Romania. Thirty-nine B-24s attacked the target; one was missing at the end of the day. Bianchi’s plane crashed near Dubrovnik, Croatia while returning to Italy. Angelo is parachuted; the Germans quickly captured him and transferred him to Croatian soldiers. They put him in solitary confinement for about 35 days before going to a German POW camp. He was first held at Stalag Luft 4, near Pomerania, Prussia, Germany, and moved to Wöbbelin camp near Ludwigslust.
As the Allies approached, the Germans forced the detainees into a holding area, eventually abandoning them, locking Bianchi and a group of about 500 people in a barn. The British freed the men and told them to head west towards the Allied lines. Thus, they began their long journey on foot. They “borrowed” an ambulance and bicycles, begged for food, and used every means possible to get to Allied lines. Bianchi was repatriated in May 1945.
After the war, Bianchi attended dental school and practiced in Rochester for many years. His story was straight out of a World War II cinematic adventure.
I started this piece with an excerpt from “For the Fallen”, a public domain WWI poem by Laurence Binyon. It is of course a moving poem. Yet it was not the poem that hit me hard. In looking for those who were lost in World War II, I looked for pictures of former pupils in old Hobart yearbooks. As the poem suggests, I saw young men who would never grow old, men from the classes of 1941-44 who would soon be gone. It was strange to see their smiling faces and to know that their death was on the horizon – the death of heroes in the service of the United States.
These are men who died for us to be free. They were indeed heroes.
John E. Norvell is a frequent contributor to the editorial section of The Times. He is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, decorated air combat veteran, and former assistant professor of military history at the Air Force Academy. He has written for the Washington Post and several historical newspapers and journals across the country. His F-4 flight memoir, “Fighter ‘Gator”, is available on Amazon and other online sites. A 1966 Hobart graduate and former alumni director, he lives in Canandaigua.