LASALLE, Ill. — Diane Liss spent Memorial Day remembering her father, a decorated World War II veteran.
But the La Salle resident still is trying to learn more about the few memories her father shared with her.
When her dad, Frank J. Ajster of La Salle died in 2007, she thought he had one Bronze Star. That was recorded at the cemetery. But she later found out he had at least five.
In May, she related a story that her dad told her: Of the approximately 2,000 men who were on a ship that steamed out of San Francisco the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor, just three men who remained in the war zone as long as Ajster did, most of them wounded, were killed or sent home.
The father’s story is difficult to verify, but Ajster indeed was a member of the 24th Infantry “Victory” Division’s “fighting 34th Infantry Regiment”, 3rd Battalion.
He didn’t tell his daughter much about the war, except a few stories. She has been finding more paperwork and learning more.
“I didn’t realize he was in a unit that was in so many battles,” she said.
Ajster was on a ship that departed from San Francisco on Dec. 6, 1941.
“They were a half day out when Pearl Harbor was bombed. They went back to San Francisco and got the ship ready for war,” Liss said. She doesn’t yet know the name of the ship.
Ajster stayed in the Pacific war zone until May 2, 1945, and officially remained in the Army until August 1945.
She still has a few newspaper clippings, including one that notes Sgt. Ajster was the officer in charge of a small group that encountered 20 enemy combatants and killed them all to survive that attack. A Daily Post-Tribune article about Frank’s brother, Anthony, finding him in the Philippines after landing on Leyte island, recounted some of the hellish experiences of the American soldiers:
“With their battalion far below strength after 21 days of hard fighting, they drove deep behind enemy lines, over back breaking, muddy mountain trails to seize and hold a ridge to deny the Japanese commanding positions facing our main forces in a crucial valley. For more than three weeks they clung to the ridge against great odds. They beat off 27 savage attacks . some in darkness of night and torrential rains.”
She possesses a good record of the places he went on a Japanese flag that a soldier, Carney Feminella of Chicago, gave to him and signed.
After that, in the red circle on the flag, Ajster wrote in ink the names of the places he went and fought and the dates he was there. Those include the battles of Goodenough Island, Hollandia and Biak from the Papua-New Guinea campaign and Leyte, Luzon, Bataan, Corregidor and Mindoro in the Philippines.
Japanese calligraphy on the white flag completely surrounds the red field that has Ajster’s writing.
The flag itself is a bit of a mystery. The Chicago soldier had seen the flag sticking out of the pocket of a fallen Japanese soldier. Villages, neighborhoods, families and friends signed the flags before Japanese soldiers went off to war, and the soldiers carried them. They were intended to be “good luck flags,”
Liss has not had the flag translated and does not know the village or city of the fallen soldier.
Ajster had told her that he never went on leave during the war when he had opportunities. A superior asked him why he didn’t take a leave.
“He said, ‘I told my commanding officer once I leave I’m not coming back,” she said.
That proved true. The war was just days from being over in Europe. He was told the war would be over in the Pacific soon, so it was time to take his leave.
Before the war, after completing eighth grade, he’d worked as a helper for steel-construction riveter and then for the Civilian Conservation Corps. After the war, he spent a career working on windshields at Libbey-Owens-Ford.
Source: (LaSalle) News-Tribune, http://bit.ly/2sjNCxu
Information from: News-Tribune, http://www.newstrib.com
This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by the (LaSalle) News-Tribune.