My middle name is Dwayne; this is what I go by. My parents wanted it that way because of what my first name – Lonnie – signifies. My father’s middle name was ‘Wayne’ and my mother liked that I – being the eldest and first son – was a reference to her husband, but it is the ‘Lonnie’ that is special.
I wasn’t called by my first name because it was too painful for my father. He couldn’t bear to hear that name over and over so regularly every hour of every day; it just hurt too much. It was still so fresh; and the honor of naming me ‘Lonnie’ was special enough anyway.
My father grew up on a farm in North Texas with nine brothers and sisters. He was number eight in sibling order, and the baby boy. Everyone had to do their part to keep the farm running; and no one worked harder than Lonnie—my father’s eldest brother. By all accounts, he was a workaholic. No one could outwork him in a day’s duties. He was a good guy with an incredible work ethic.
It was easy for my father to worship his older brother; they spent a lot of time together as fate would have it – and the farm schedule. Lonnie taught dad much about life as their father was off working a second job or in the fields all day. But when it was time for Lonnie to go to war; he volunteered to fight for his country. It was late 1943.
Dad was devastated, not for just losing his brother to a far-away place, but also because Lonnie might not come back…ever. When the news came that Lonnie had died fighting in Italy in February 1945, Dad was inconsolable. He was a month short of his 12th birthday. It changed him that day; it changed the course of his life even as his brother’s ended on that mountainside.
Lonnie C. Wilder died fighting with the 10th Mountain Division on Mt. Belvedere, a mountain the Allies eventually took in part because of men like my uncle who fought and died for their country. He and his comrades in arms held positions in foxholes dug all night by hand with a short shovel. Pvt. Wilder was shot during the siege while fighting courageously.
He is buried in the American National Cemetery in Florence, Italy with the others who died fighting fascism. In my opinion, there are no ‘losers’ in that cemetery or any other one like it in the world. No one - especially those who did not serve – has the right to call them names and belittle those buried.
In the fields and creeks where they used to work and play, my father made a promise to his now deceased brother – ‘I will name my first-born son in honor of you.’ And fifteen years later, he kept that promise when I was born. The pain was still too fresh for the father, but Mom knew what to do. The honor came out only when someone had to formally use my first name; and that was enough. We were all reminded of what Uncle Lonnie did for his family and country.
I was fortunate enough to be friends with his widow over the last few years of her life. She told me about my uncle and how he loved my father so much. She told me of his love of Life; and that farming was everything to him. He had never even held a gun when he joined the Army, but his call to duty was stronger; he wanted to fight for his country and die, if necessary, to defend her and his family in the process.
I didn’t have the impetus to name my firstborn son after a brother or uncle, so this story will end someday. The name ‘Lonnie’ might die with me, but his memory and legacy will live on; long after those who disparage him are rotting in their own graves and forgotten.
Dwayne Wilder is a Sherman native who currently lives in Denison. Wilder’s Whole World is his commentary about life in Texoma and the world. Wilder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.