Recognition by Two 12-Year-Olds to Honour American Vietnam War Marine

For the majority of their young lives, 12-year-old best friends Alec Jankowski and Rudy Altenbach have walked by a cenotaph to U.S. Marine Pfc. Gregory Kasper, who died in the Vietnam War, in their Edison Park neighbourhood in Chicago.

And for almost a half-century, Gail Kasper has kept her brother’s memory alive by caring for his memorial.

Alec and Rudy, both in seventh grade at Ebinger Elementary — never knew her until June, when the duo knocked on Kasper’s door with a question. They wanted her to sign a petition making it possible to have the 7500 block of North Oketo Avenue name changed to honour Gregory Kasper.

I told them, ‘Do you know who I am? “Gregory’s sister,” Gail Kasper said.

The boys got 75 signatures, enough for a request for submission to the city council.

The petition was approved in August, and at 10 a.m. Saturday, an official ceremony takes place at Oketo and Birchwood avenues to modify the street name. Representatives from St. Juliana, Gregory Kasper’s grade school —   Notre Dame College Prep – his high school —  will be there, Gail Kasper said.

He honored our country, so now we are honoring him, Rudy said.

Alec added: “I wish I could have been introduced to him.”

The ceremony occurs almost 49 years to the day Kasper died. The 20-year-old lost his life to mortar fire in Vietnam the latter part of September 1967. Gail Kasper said her brother was leaving a foxhole to get ammunition when he died. She said her brother, who enlisted in the Marines after finishing high school, had planned to wed his high school sweetheart and be a member of the Fire Department, where her father was employed.

The memorial has always been on the boys’ walk to baseball practice or school, but they didn’t realize its significance. Alec’s father, Paul, was planning a trip to visit Washington, D.C. in summer that involved a visit to the Vietnam Memorial. He thought learning additional facts about the Kasper Memorial would be a worthwhile project for his son. Alec got Rudy’s help, and after some research, the teens decided to do something additional by changing the street name after Kasper, DNAinfo Chicago reported.

“I wanted my son to understand that this man was like my son, from the same neighbourhood — and he sacrificed his life for our country”, Paul Jankowski said. With everything happening and people burning flags, he thought it was nice that they could do something to show patriotism.

“That war ruined a lot of families, and it’s something you never forget,” she said. “But what those boys have done holds lots of meaning to me and the neighbourhood.”

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE