You’ve probably never heard of Joe and Florence Svoboda, or any of their six children: Joe Jr., Lloyd, Floyd, Betty, Norma, and Charles. But on this anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day, I’m dedicating my column to Joe and Florence, their family, and the sacrifices they made for our country.
And if by chance Laura Hillenbrand reads this column, she will have material for her next best seller.
Joe, at 6-feet, 4-inches was a Marine, and was already a veteran of World War I when Dec. 7 rolled around. Six months later he was fighting the Japanese on United States soil in Adak, Alaska, a part of WWII history few appreciate. Joe retired a Major.
Joe and Florence’s oldest son, Joe Jr., contracted polio as a youth. Disqualified from serving the country, he enrolled at the University of Kansas and earned a degree in chemical engineering. In his spare time he played trumpet in the Marching Band. After undergrad he earned a master’s and doctorate degrees in chemical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Floyd and Lloyd were identical twins. When war broke out, they enlisted in the Army and were assigned to the 76th Infantry Division, which was part of General Patton’s Third Army. They fought in the Battle of the Bulge, which historians note was one of the war’s bloodiest battles.
On Feb. 19, 1945, in a battle in Minden, Germany, Lloyd was instructed to take out a German machine gun nest situated on a hill. In that effort, he sustained a bullet wound to his face, injuring his left eye. Despite the injury, he continued to instruct his troops.
After they dispensed with the Germans, Lloyd, with his face now covered in gauze, muttered to the Red Cross nurse — “I have a twin brother somewhere in this area. Please find him.” And they did. And they were evacuated together.
For Lloyd’s heroics, he earned a Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Lloyd’s son Tom lives in Lenexa.
“Despite all of that he was not going to let his injury stop himself or use it as an excuse” Tom Svoboda told me. “After recovery he went back home to Lawrence and finished his degree in chemical engineering and then became a very successful international engineer with Black & Veatch.”
But years later, Lloyd had another date with history. On July 17, 1981, he and his wife, Rose, were at the Hyatt when the skywalks fell. Incredibly, they both avoided serious injury.
Like Lloyd, Floyd returned to KU and earned his degree in petroleum engineering.
Sister Betty married Danny Brune, raised four children while working as a grade school teacher in Lawrence. Norma married Dale Hamrick, had a son, and became a labor and delivery nurse at Lawrence Memorial. In her spare time she bowled.
Which leads us to the youngest, only living sibling – Charles, who is now approaching his 90th birthday.
Our paths intersected several years ago on a veteran’s project I was working on involving Kansas lawyers. When Chuck graduated from Lawrence High in May 1945, he wanted to join the Naval Air Corps. But there was one problem. Chuck was two months short of reaching 18. The parental consent he needed quickly followed.
When the Japanese surrendered four months after his enlistment, Chuck learned that his mission was going to be part of the advance strike force for the invasion of Japan, with estimates of 80 percent casualties. Upon his discharge he returned home, went to KU, got his engineering and then law degrees.
Along the way Chuck married Margaret Sullivan at Visitation Parish in January 1951. They were married for 63 years. Chuck became a successful lawyer in Kansas City, defending corporations and manufacturers. His practice was deeply embedded in a culture of civility and professionalism. It should come as no surprise that clients flocked to him.
And that unusual name — “Svoboda,” is actually a common name in the Slavic countries. Its meaning?
Reach Matt Keenan at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter:MDKeenan2, or visit his blog: www.matthewkeenan.com.