On September 26, my wife Sharon and I walked to the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument groundbreaking ceremony at Veterans Park on Gartner Road. Naperville has always shown appreciation for Veterans who have served and will always remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. The ceremony was fitting for the occasion, and once complete will be a lasting tribute to true American heroes.
While there, I had a brief moment to visit with my cousin Mary Knoch, a witty Nonagenarian. Mary was there to honor her brother, Flight Officer George Knoch. She proudly stood when George’s name was read. I would like to share some of George’s story.
On a cold Saturday January morning in 1944, Flight Officer Knoch found himself climbing into the navigator’s seat in a B-17 heavy bomber parked on the tarmac of RAF Snetterton Heath in England. Just days before, he had arrived at Snetterton and was assigned to a 10-man aircrew with Lt. Anthony as the pilot. They were taking part in a large-scale air raid of Nazi Germany that day, with their target being the industrial complexes located near Ludwigshafen in west central Germany.
While over the target, a German Messerschmitt 109 piloted by Bruno Bolowski was shot down by another bomber in the formation. The ME 109 collided with George’s B17. All ten crewmembers perished. George was just 21 years old.
George was no different than the many others that answered when his country called. He was a young man with a bright future in store.
When I started doing research on George some 20-plus years ago, I asked my mother, Jean Knoch Wehrli, about him. She smiled, let out a mournful sigh, and reminisced. She recalled him wearing his Naperville High School letterman’s sweater and how all the girls found him to be quite handsome.
“George was an athlete with smarts, too,” my mother added with pride.
This is just one story of a Naperville native son who took a stand and defended freedom. He gave his last full measure and must not be forgotten. We must also never forget that those family members left behind at home paid a price, too. Mary lost a brother. Her sacrifice and heartache, like members of all Gold Star families, must always be remembered and honored.
In collaboration with Century Walk, the Naperville Gold Star Families Memorial Monument dedication is tentatively scheduled for June of 2022. Those individuals who mourn the loss of a loved one will appreciate your being there.