SIOUX CITY | Friday promises to be a banner day for Bishop Heelan High School as a wealth of former football coaches, players, school and community members rededicate Memorial Field, site of an $800,000 improvement project.
For starters, the field will be blessed by Bishop R. Walker Nickless.
My thoughts turn to the name, Memorial Field, as I count blessings; the fortune I have in being raised and raising my children in a free country where we enjoy the luxury of focusing on activities such as high school football, rather than running from persecution.
That's possible, in large part, because of the men and women who gave their lives in World War II, heroes for whom Memorial Field takes its name. Two bronze plaques featuring names of approximately 400 men and women from Woodbury and Dakota counties once stood at the gate of this complex, a facility erected in 1949 by citizens who formed the Memorial Field Athletic Association, people who posited a baseball field would help keep wayward young people off the streets and engaged in baseball, "America's Past-time."
Those plaques, now carried on a trailer and presented at games and parades, will, in due time, return to a permanent place at Memorial Field, their home, as future improvements involving lighting, seating, locker rooms and a stadium entrance proceed.
There are facts I didn't know about Memorial Field until this week. For example, I didn't realize Memorial Field, constructed with $125,000 in donations in 1949, was designed for baseball. I didn't know that when the Heelan Crusaders first played football here in the fall of 1949, they weren't the Heelan Crusaders. It wasn't Heelan High at that time.
"It was Catholic High for a semester, if not a bit longer after it opened in the fall of 1949," said Tom Betz, director of advancement for Bishop Heelan Catholic Schools.
The "HC" logo, I assumed, always stood for Heelan Crusaders. Betz said initially, at least, it represented Catholic High.
Memorial Field was built as a living memorial to those who died in the service of the U.S. in World War II, a conflict whose end came 72 years ago Saturday with the signing of the surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay that put the stamp on the defeat of a tyrannical government in Japan.
In giving a glance at the names on the Memorial Field plaques I came across that of U.S. Navy sailor Elzie Ahlwardt, of tiny Danbury, Iowa, in Woodbury County. He was killed 72 years ago this week, four days before the surrender was signed. He was 20.
I also noticed the names of Elizabeth C. Crow and Betty Jane Montandon, Woodbury County women who died while serving in World War II.
And, I read the name Chris A. Jensen, whose life was cut short by a Japanese torpedo that struck the USS Indianapolis on July 30, 1945, just after the ship delivered parts to be used to build one of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. Three hundred sailors went down with the ship; more than 500 died awaiting rescue, attempting to stay afloat amid the wreckage and sharks.
An estimated 60 million to 80 million people worldwide perished in World War II. Men like Chris Jensen illustrate the hell on earth many suffered while fighting for freedom.
And so they'll gather on Friday, 15 minutes before the Crusaders play the Carroll Tigers in high school football, waging "battle" as we often say, young men playing a boys game on plush new artificial turf.
Memorial Field, I'm sure, will radiate on a memorable night. And the givers, those representing Bishop Heelan High School, Briar Cliff University and the community at large, will celebrate a phase-one effort fully funded, one that allows this field and its track to perform their duties, keeping young people engaged in most worthwhile endeavors such as football, track and field, school spirit and friendship.
When locals tackled this Memorial Field idea nearly 70 years ago, Ford Frick, president of the National League, and Albert B. "Happy" Chandler, commission of Major League Baseball, sent letters of support.
"Too often, war memorials have taken the form of a statue or fountain or some other ornamental but somewhat useless decoration," Frick wrote. "Memorials that can be used; memorials that are helpful for civic purposes are, it seems to me, typical of our American spirit."
Comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello added their two cents, statements that didn't leave me in stitches the way their famous "Who's On First" baseball routine could. No, the comedians were serious and spot-on in their observations about Memorial Field.
"We believe that such a project will do more to reduce juvenile delinquency and bring about better understanding between peoples of all races and creeds than any other type of undertaking," Abbott and Costello wrote. "The dedication of your athletic and recreation field to the dead of World War II is, we believe, a noble and inspiring act. Such living memorials serve to keep uppermost in our minds and hearts the ideals for which these boys paid with the supreme sacrifice."