Two Rockford, Illinois WWII Heroes
Jacob Bruzos was born in Rockford on May 19, 1918. He was the only son of Jacob and Mary Bruzos, who both immigrated from Lithuania. Jacob Bruzos Senior was born about 1893. He and Mary were married in Winnebago County in June of 1917. They would eventually open their own dry cleaning stores.
Jacob Junior grew up in Rockford, Illinois, graduating from Rockford High School. It was while in high school that Jacob found his love for photography. He was hired by Burchett Studio on East State Street and also worked at Camp Grant in Rockford as a photographer. He was inducted there in June of 1942 and completed his Basic Training at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri.
Jacob was sent to Guatemala and then to India. He was hand-picked to become an aerial photographer. This was a vital component of the war and the U.S. B-29 bombers would use photographers like Jacob to help determine bomb targets.
The Jacob and Mary last heard from their son in September of 1944. Jacob wrote that he enjoyed China much more than some of the other countries he’d seen. Jacob had achieved the rank of Corporal by this time and he was very proud of his contribution to the war effort.
The next information Jacob and Mary received was by telegram telling them that Jacob had been killed in action in China. Jacob had been flying a mission on a B-29 Superfortress when the plane crashed. His body was buried there in a small cemetery.
In 1948, a U.S. Army Transport ship the Cardinal O’Connell arrived in San Francisco. It carried the bodies of 2785 men and 8 women who had been recovered from cemeteries throughout the Pacific where they had been laid to rest during the war. They included the bodies of 11 men from the Rockford area.
Jacob was one of these men. Jacob’s mother was a member of the Mothers of World War II and the group was there to meet the bodies and help the families through the process of getting their loved ones home and re-buried.
Staff Sergeant Leonard Victor Anderson was another of the men returned home on the transport ship in 1948. He was born in Sweden and came to America with his parents when he was six years old. Leonard finished high school and was employed by the National Lock company in Rockford until he enlisted in the coast artillery unit in February of 1941.
His father, Victor D. Anderson received a letter from Leonard on November 21, 1941. In the letter, Leonard talked about his days in the Pacific Islands and his promotion to staff sergeant. Victor stated that he heard from the Red Cross that Leonard was missing after the Japanese invaded the Philippines.
Then he heard nothing more. Victor did not even know his son was in a prisoner of war camp until January of 1943. Victor told everyone who asked that he had faith that his boy was coming home soon. When he was notified of Leonard’s death, the Army could not even tell him for sure when his son had died. It would be another five long years before they could bring Leonard home to be buried.
Copyright © 2014, 2021 by Kathi Kresol. Originally published at: