|Theophil Czekajski is the second name listed on|
the third column engraved on the wall of the
This story was originally published in The Spectrum in 2004, less than a year after the start of the war in Iraq.
It started with a dream.
It was another dream about
Pearl Harbor. I have those often, usually as December 7th
approaches, but this was in March. Once
again, it was about the U.S.S. Arizona, the American battleship that sank to
the bottom of the harbor following an attack by Japanese planes. In this dream, a name came to me. It was a Polish-sounding name, starting with
a “Ch” or “Sh” sound.
Unlike most dreams which disappear like a wisp of smoke at daylight, this one stuck with me.
I started researching the events of
7th, 1941, particularly those surrounding the Arizona. I found a name. Theophil Czekajski.
He was a Signalman 3rd Class in the U.S. Naval Reserve. His next of kin was Mrs. Sophia Czekajski, who lived at
6479 Debuel Street
That’s all. It was a bittersweet revelation. On one hand, it was fulfilling to know that the name of this American hero appeared on 15 different websites, which means his name has not been forgotten. On the other, it was heartbreaking to know that this was all that would ever be known about him.
Through further research, I found Nancy Martin.
Nancy was Mr. Czekajski’s
distant cousin. In another bizarre
twist, Mrs. Martin was going to be in St. George at the end of March. This began to feel like more than just a
We met at my office, where I learned that “Phil”, as he was known to his family, never married and had no children. He had a brother who was reported to be still alive, but little other information.
What did he do for a living? What were his dreams? What was he going to be? What girl did he leave behind? How many children was he going to have? What was he going to accomplish in his next 50 years?
I began to ponder what all of this meant. Then I realized that the symmetry could be found in the war in
Iraq. For that matter, in all wars. Every day, another soldier dies in Iraq. How many of them are like Phil? How many died before their lives even
began? How many will be enveloped in
obscurity for the ages? How many will be
marked in history as nothing more than a name and a rank on a bronze
I want to say that I will remember you, Phil. I pray that there is a special section of Heaven set aside for those like you who give their lives for people they will never know or meet. I can’t know the name of every man and woman beside you, or those who will soon be joining you, but I can let you know that I am grateful. And as you look down upon us, you know that your life was not given in vain, because you are looking upon a nation still dedicated to freedom, a freedom that is spreading around the world.
I will remember.
NOTE: In 2010, my wife and I visited the Arizona Memorial, one of the most moving and emotional things I've ever done. I cried at a wall that contained names of strangers who died nearly 20 years before I was born. There near the top of that wall was the name: T. Czekajski. I thanked him for his sacrifice, which is as close as I'll ever get to showing my appreciation to the hundreds of thousands of people who died giving me this country and this life.