A Soldier’s Remains

Appeared in the Spring/Summer 2024 Gazette
By Carrie Hoza

Every year on Memorial Day, the Village of Winnetka takes time to remember its fallen soldiers. After the parade is done and the ceremony ends with the reading of our fallen’s names, Winnetkans move on to enjoy a day of remembrance with barbeques, luncheons, “honey do” lists, and whatever else they can fit into a day off of work and school. As a combat veteran myself, we, the VFW Post #4831, take time after the parade to share in our comradery and toast our fallen over lunch, remembering those we personally knew and lost. The names on the Cenotaph on the Village Green, with the most recent Winnetkan loss from Vietnam, are possibly known to the older vets, but, to me, not personally known. These soldiers who paid the ultimate price of war are so important to our history and, by lunch time, there’s a quiet echo from the morning’s events. Life moves on.

John Wadsworth Gordon, c. 1940s.

In late October this past year, names, I got word of a long-forgotten name: Private First Class (PFC) John Wadsworth Gordon, a Winnetka Resident and WWII soldier who was assigned to Company G, 2nd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division. He was killed in action during the Battle of the Bulge on January 17, 1945, his body unable to be recovered. I learned that after 78 years, his missing remains had been identified and would finally be brought home and laid to rest.

With Veteran’s Day right around the corner, I dove into the rabbit hole of trying to find out as much as I could about PFC John Wadsworth Gordon. Who was he? Did he have any family still in the area? He was being laid to rest at Wood National Cemetery in Milwaukee, WI. Who would be in attendance? Would we ever know more than the brief snippets of information found on Google? While I have been unable to locate any family locally or in Wisconsin, what I did find out was that he led a meaningful life before he was forgotten.

John was born August 28, 1912 and grew up at 874 Lincoln Street here in Winnetka. While he spent a couple of years studying at Hebron Academy in Maine, he finished his studies at New Trier High School (formerly known as New Trier East). He was a varsity track athlete, a stamp collector, an editor for the yearbook, and I am sure someone’s friend. He was a beloved son who put his mom as his emergency contact, a brother who was there to stand by one of his sisters as she got married in 1936, an uncle, a transplant to Kentucky and Minnesota, and an employee of the Kraft Cheese Company.

John never married. His parents and siblings are all long gone, with the last of his sisters passing away in 1999. Over the years, the rest of his local family dispersed all over the country. Thus, little else is known about his life before the war.

Elements of John’s experiences in the army are a bit of a mystery as well. He was awarded the bronze star and a purple heart. Being a recipient of the purple heart is not surprising – he was killed in action after all – but to earn the bronze star, what heroic efforts did he perform? What was he going through in the field? We may never know. What we do know is that during one of the last battles of the war, only 8 days before that battle would end in an allied victory, John’s life ended too soon at the age of 32.

A man. A brother. A friend. A son. An unsung hero who for so many years was just a name read on Memorial Day in a tiny village on the North Shore. He joins so many fallen soldiers with a story untold. A life unlived. And a history fading into lost memories.