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At Arlington Heights' Memorial Park, every brick tells a story
By Deborah Donovan | Daily Herald Staff

The shadow of Greg Padovani falls on bricks at Memorial Park in Arlington Heights that honor members of his family.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Greg Padovani, right, and Jerry Bashleben walk through Memorial Park in Arlington Heights. Padovani is chairman of the Drive to Revive the park.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Jerry Bashleben looks at the brick commemorating the World War II service of his father, Jim Bashleben.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Greg Padovani, chairman of the Drive to Revive Memorial Park in Arlington Heights, shows the brick commemorating his uncle, E. Padovani Jr. called "Lucky Eddie" because he survived the sinking of the USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Memorial Park in Arlington Heights.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Germain Maurais was awarded three purple hearts and a silver star for his service during World War II.

 

Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Friends created a wall of memories for Germain Maurais, who also goes by Jim, in his Church Creek apartment in Arlington Heights.

 

Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Here are medals Germain Maurais was awarded for his service during World War II.

 

Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Germain Maurais was 17 when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy.

 

Maggie Maurais is Germain's late wife.

 

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Published: 5/31/2010 12:05 AM

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Jim Bashleben survived the Bataan Death March, Germain Maurais piloted a boat to save Marines at Guadalcanal and had three ships sunk from under him in the Solomon Islands, and Edward Padovani reunited with his son and namesake in wartime Japan.

Engraved bricks at Memorial Park in Arlington Heights represent their service, and Greg Padovani said each of the 300 bricks tells a story - but some are especially dramatic.

Reports of these men's exploits bring the sacrifices of American servicemen and women in faraway places home to the suburbs.

And this is the whole point of the bricks, said Padovani, chairman of Drive to Revive, which is raising money for projects in the tiny park.

"The whole purpose of this is to let people know now and generations into the future about the service and sacrifice of these men and women," he said.

A ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. today at the park at Fremont and Chestnut streets after the Memorial Day parade, which starts at 9:30 a.m. at village hall, Arlington Heights Road and Sigwalt Street.

Memorial Park's current project is raising funds for a bronze statue of a flame that will shimmer when lighted at night. About half of the $80,000 needed for the Fran Volz creation has been raised. Eventually Padovani would like to get a website so teachers and students can study the stories of veterans honored in the bricks.

Buying a paver to honor a veteran of any U.S. military service during peace or war - no matter whether he or she lived in Arlington Heights - requires a $100 donation. Businesses and other supporters of the park can purchase bricks with their names on them for $150.

The park has grabbed people's emotions, Padovani said.

"It is so heart-wrenching to hear these stories," he said.

Some leave flowers by the bricks, and one bagpiper stood alone and played "Amazing Grace."

Jim Bashleben

Jim Bashleben's family commissioned a brick commemorating him as a survivor of the Bataan Death March, but the story is not quite complete. The family also donated to honor his two friends from Maine East High School who joined the Army with him and survived the death march only to die while prisoners of war.

It's not shocking that Bill Von Bergen and Andy Hepburn did not make it home because fewer than half of the 89 members of the 33rd Tank Company who left Maywood in 1941 were alive at the end of the war.

The death march after undersupplied U.S. forces were ordered to surrender to Japanese forces in the Philippines is remembered because 7,000-10,000 men died when about 20,000 American and 50,000 Filipino soldiers were marched 60 miles in five days. Besides the heat and lack of water and food, marchers were shot and bayoneted.

Filipino civilians tried to give the soldiers food and water. Occasionally prisoners would meet Japanese soldiers who showed kindness, especially a few who had been raised in the United States but happened to be in Japan when the war started and got conscripted into the Japanese army.

During his 3½ years as a prisoner Bashleben endured transports in suffocating rail cars and ships as well as work details. He survived not only harsh conditions, but disease: While a prisoner he contacted beriberi, dengue fever, edema, malaria, pellagra, scurvy, dysentery and anemia.

After the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki in August 1945, Bashleben and a friend just walked away from a nearby Japanese prison camp.

He weighed 110 pounds, compared to 180 when he entered the Army, and at discharge his rank was staff sergeant.

Bashleben, who died last year at the age of 91, lived in Arlington Heights and wrote 50 pages about his war experiences for his two sons and grandchildren. His wife, Joyce, died in January.

As a child, Jerry Bashleben remembered his father getting up in the night and pacing, and hearing his mother ask whether it was the "same dream again."

"When I was in grade school I was a little embarrassed," said Jerry Bashleben. "Nobody knows Bataan; everybody knows Normandy, and my dad surrendered."

But when he got older, people told him how impressed they were and how important his father's efforts were at delaying the Japanese.

When asked, the senior Bashleben would talk about his experiences.

"The last few years he would talk and laugh about the good times and the bad that happened. The last 15 or 20 years he was very open," said his son.

And as a youngster, Jerry Bashleben attended a parade in Maywood where 200,000 people, including Gen. Douglas MacArthur, came to honor his father and his comrades. MacArthur, who was in charge of U.S. forces in the Far East, was ordered to leave the Philippines before the surrender.

Germain Maurais

Germain Maurais, known as "Frenchy" aboard ship, can still rattle off dates and names six decades after serving in the U.S. Navy, but the heavy accent the 17-year-old French Canadian carried when he enlisted in 1939 is long gone.

He earned the silver star for piloting a Higgins craft that rescued Marines from a beach at Guadalcanal.

"I put 24 in my boat," said Maurais. "Some were shellshocked; some wounded. I had an awful time trying to control them."

This was the 1942 volunteer mission led by Douglas Munro, who posthumously became the only member of the Coast Guard to win the Medal of Honor.

All of Maurais' duty was in the Solomon Islands in the Pacific Ocean north of Australia. Three ships sank while he was serving on them: the McCawley, the Atlanta and the John Penn.

A torpedo hit the magazine where explosives were stored on the Penn, and half the crew died immediately. When Maurais heard an officer shout to abandon ship, he leapt 40 feet into water full of burning fuel.

"The water was lit up like daylight," he said. "My shoulder hit a cargo plank and broke, so I couldn't swim. I didn't have on a life jacket, just a little life belt. A tall black man pushed me on to this cargo plank in the water, so I started paddling with my left hand. If the water hadn't been on fire I wouldn't have known who saved me."

He later invited that man, who had become a minister, to a ship's reunion so he could thank him.

When the first two ships sank, Maurais' injuries from shrapnel, paint chips and burns were treated in the field, but after his shoulder was broken, he was sent to California.

"The Navy was my life," said Maurais, who was a chief petty officer. "I loved it. That feeling that I had - a sense of well being when picking up anchor to go some place. I loved the sea, and then the war came. I knew this will last only so long, then we'd be back to normal. I'd do my 20 and get out."

But in San Diego the fiancee of a friend introduced him to a young lady, and he knew that minute his life at sea was over.

After Maurais' discharge from the Navy in 1946, his career in sales brought him and his wife, Maggie, to live in Palatine many years. She died four years ago, and he now lives at Church Creek in Arlington Heights.

While Maurais talks easily about his experiences, he said he still has nightmares about the battles and takes medicine for his post-traumatic stress. His shoulder still hurts, and he blames his injuries for his inability to walk and need to use an electric chair.

The Padovanis

The family called Greg Padovani's uncle "Lucky Eddie" because he survived the sinking of the USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor.

He also survived the battle of Okinawa, the last great battle of World War II and one of the deadliest.

While this conflict was still going on, he was reunited on an Okinawa beach with his father, E.J. Padovani, who was with the Seabees.

Greg Padovani said his family has eight bricks in the park, including one for his nephew, M. J. Padovani, who is in Iraq with the U.S. Army.

Darwin W. Townsend Jr.; John P. Horan Jr.

At Monday's Memorial Day service In Arlington Heights, Rep. Mark Kirk will present medals to Cathy Jo and Timothy Horan for their fathers, both deceased.

Horan, who lived in Rolling Meadows, earned a bronze star and campaign medals for Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Townsend, of Arlington Heights, was too young to get into the military during World War II but served in occupied Japan.

• For information about Memorial Park visit ahparkfoundation.org/MemorialParkFund/index.htm; a video about the park is at vah.com/video/?id=5007; Proviso East High School students created a website about local soldiers and Bataan at www.proviso.k12.il.us/bataan%20web/.