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A Hero Lived Among Us …

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A hero lived among us in Kankakee County, Illinois. Most of our residents were unaware, but how could they be? He did not brag about his exploits or flaunt his medals. He didn’t write a book or go on a tour to talk about himself, although his life and experiences are the kind of material that makes bestsellers. Like so many members of “The Greatest Generation,” he lived a quiet, unassuming life. After saving the free world, he returned home, went to work, raised a family and didn’t talk about it. The word hero is tossed around in so many ways and applied to so many people that it often losses its meaning. But when someone referred to John Neville as a hero, it is applied with the highest honor and the greatest purpose.

John Neville, of Bradley, Illinois, passed away this week. I personally know of no other person more deserving of the title, hero. John was the genuine article. He was the real deal … a World War II B-29 Flying Fortress Pilot. John and his crew flew 30 dangerous missions in the South Pacific. Their last mission was over Tokyo, where, while returning back to base, they were shot down. Badly damaged from antiaircraft fire, and while being pursued by Japanese fighters, John miraculously crash landed his plane, saving his entire crew.

John Neville and his crew of “The Lucky Irish” were lauded as “The Memphis Belle” of the Pacific. While returning to the USA, piloting a damaged aircraft, John again was forced to crash land his aircraft, this time killing all the crew members but three.

For his heroic acts during WWII, John was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. So yes, John Neville was a legitimate war hero. But that is only the beginning of what made John a great man.

John returned home to Annabelle, the girl he left behind. They were married and remained together for sixty-seven years. John spent his after-the-war career employed with Mobil Oil Company and he never flew again. John and his beautiful bride raised three outstanding children and enjoyed six grand children and five great grand children. John and Annabelle’s marriage and love for each other produced a wonderful family to carry on. Annabelle died last year.

Arlene and I know one of John and Annabelle’s children. Pat Neville Chaplinski and her husband Randy are two of our dearest friends. Pat is a teacher. A great teacher and mentor to her students. She is dedicated and passionate. She loves her students and truly cares about them. For her, teaching is a passion and a mission, not a job. But should we be surprised? She was raised by our hero, John and his wife Annabelle, to be so. The strong and positive example of great and loving parents lives on through their children. Even though John left us this week, the character of the man survives and thrives through his daughter, Pat, as I am certain it does through his other two children, grand children and great grand children. We owe John Neville a debt for his service to our nation during WWII that we can never repay, but we equally owe John and Annabelle for the lives they led after the war and the family they raised.

We attended John’s wake today. I met Pat’s other siblings, Karen and John. Like Pat, they are wonderful people. I do not know much about them but I would bet, like John and Annabelle, they are outstanding parents and pillars of their communities. They are John and Annabelle’s living legacies. I said to Pat today that her dad was a hero. Pat responded, “Yes he was, but he was a hero to me because he was my dad.”

Why am I telling you about this? I think everyone should know about John Neville. If you do not, you cannot be grateful for his sacrifice and service to our country. We owe him our gratitude. For those who are so inclined, I hope you will say a prayer, thanking God for John’s life and his service and asking Him to bless John’s family. Arlene and I feel so very blessed to know Pat and we are grateful to her father for helping make her into the amazing woman she is. Thank you, John, for Pat. We love her.

May God bless the memory of John and Annabelle Neville. I pray that God gives us, who are left behind, the ability and courage to live up to the high standard John and Annabelle set. They will be missed, but also deeply and profoundly appreciated by generations to come.

Gary