Doolin: Confirmation of the Greatest Generation
By John Doolin firstname.lastname@example.org July 9, 2012 7:46PM
John Doolin is an Oak Forest resident and the South Division advertising director for Sun-Times Media.
Updated: August 11, 2012 6:22AM
The first thing you notice when walking up to Richard Soderlund’s Orland Park townhome is, as he describes it, “the most beautiful thing there is” — a giant U.S. flag. He fought in the South Pacific some 67 years ago.
Reciting stories as if they happened yesterday, Soderlund was about to open up the scars he says, “never heal.” The World War II Navy 1st Class Radar Man veteran is scheduled for Wednesday’s Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., to visit, reminisce, and “honor those who fought” for the very memorial that stands today in their honor.
Soderlund enlisted in the Navy at 17. He had three weeks of basic training at Great Lakes before heading to the South Pacific. Soderlund began to tell the sometimes painful and emotional stories of the day the USS John Rodgers pulled into Pearl Harbor.
There were bodies of soldiers, women and children “floating everywhere,” he said.
“It was like nothing I had ever seen,” he said. “It was more than I could have ever imagined.”
Soderlund is a father of three, grandfather to 10, great-grandfather to 16, and great-great-grandfather of one. He’s a retired pipefitter of 47 years.
He found out about the Honor Flight Chicago program through an article his son-in-law, Herb Kucinskas, read in the paper. Kucinskas is a Vietnam veteran, and will go with Rich on the one day trip.
As we walked to the basement of Soderlund’s home where the pictures, and awards are a constant reminder of U.S. military efforts in the South Pacific, he showed me an old photo album full of memories, and emotions. He pointed to a photo of a young sailor who died in action that was his “connection to home.”
It was a sailor named “Kenipe” from 74th and Wentworth in Chicago. As the tears began to well up in his eyes and role down his face, he spoke of the young Chicago man who courageously lost his life in the attack on Pearl Harbor, and how he wished he could find somebody who had a connection to him. All he knew was he had a sister. He did not know her name, if she was deceased, alive, or ever married. He doesn’t know if there were any funeral services, or whatever happened to sailor Kenipe’s remains.
Still, after all these years, he needs closure.
“It’s all so very emotional,” Soderlund said. “The scars never heal, and those kids hitting the shores never had a chance.”
When asked what he would say if he were to stumble upon his commanding officer at the memorial, Soderland began to cry.
“Job well done,” he said.
The USS John Rodgers was SOLD to the Mexican Navy, and then subsequently SOLD back to an investor group of sailors and historians who defended its honor and who served that ship with pride and valor. The USS John Rodgers was last seen being towed on the east coast of South Florida full of memories and scars of a generation that has never been duplicated.
“We never lost a man aboard that ship. That’s pretty amazing.” So are you, Mr. Soderlund.