Last Memorial Day, Mark Wawer, father of John ’11 and Nate ’13, attended a Memorial Day ceremony led by Chaplain Bob Ganung at the school’s World War II memorial in Lincoln Lobby, honoring the 59 alumni who gave their lives for their country.
“That night Nate and I talked about the meaning of Memorial Day and the connection he and John had with those young men who walked the same halls as they did,” explains Wawer. “And so a project was formed.”
The Wawer family had a vacation to Italy planned. Mark decided to use that opportunity to locate the three Taft men buried on Italian soil: Donald Rodes ’43 and Albin Schoepf ’39 at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy, and Richard Knight ’40 at the Florence American Cemetery.
“Once I located them I tried to contact any living family members to let them know we were going to visit the gravesites to pay our respects and to let them know that Taft had not forgotten them and continued to honor their sacrifice.”
With a little detective work, Mark was able to locate Schoepf’s sister and Rodes’ nephew. Starting with Taft Annuals, he then consulted local librarians and followed several leads until he made contact with their relatives.
Upon his return in July, Mark emailed them again to describe the trip and send them photos:
Dear Dr. Crocker,
I had the honor and privilege to pay my respects to your brother at the Sicily-Rome Cemetery on June 18 and am attaching photographs of the cemetery, memorial, chapel interior, gardens and museum room. Your brother’s name appears on the top of the southern facing wall. It reads:
Schoepf, Albin K. Jr 1 lt. 99 Bomb SQ (H) New York
The cemetery is located 38 miles south of Rome. It covers 77 acres and contains 7,861 headstones of white marble. The magnitude of the loss is immense. Aas you scan the burial plots, each section enclosed by low hedges and the walking area surrounded by Italian cypress trees. I was the only visitor to the cemetery on the morning of the 18th, but as I was leaving I noticed Italian grandparents walking their grandchildren around the large elliptical pool at the entrance to the grounds. It is a beautiful setting of reflection and remembrance.
For more information about American battle monuments, visit www.abmc.gov
Listen to Mark Wawer's Morning Meeting presentation on Veterans' Day.