By Bob Gross
Nancy Boomer was looking at an old black-and white-photo of her uncle, Chester August Sass.
She said she didn’t know much about her mother’s brother.
“The only thing I really ever heard about him was my mother said my oldest brother, Jerry, was an awful lot like Uncle Chet,” said the East China Township resident.
Boomer was meeting with Port Huron resident Ed Weichsler on Tuesday at the St. Clair Library. Weichsler was scanning the old photo of Chester Sass so it could be included in a project to honor St. Clair County residents who died while in service to the United States.
Sass, who was 22, was declared dead on March 1, 1942. A member of the U.S. Navy during World War II, he was killed during the sinking of the USS Houston during the Battle of Sunda Strait between the islands of Java and Sumatra. Sass’s photo will be part of the Blue Water Fallen Heroes Community Banner Project. The goal of the project is to locate photos of people who have died while in service to their country during the period from World War I to the current day so they can be displayed on banners throughout the county.
“This is history that should not be lost,” Boomer said.
The banner project, she said, “should pull us together. It should be like 9-11 when everybody pulls together.”
The project, which was announced in the fall of 2018, is modeled on a similar project in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, Weichsler said. He and Nancy Deising, of the St. Clair County Department of Veterans Affairs, and other volunteers had been planning the project for about a year and a half before it was announced.
He said volunteers have identified about 580 people who meet the criteria to be included on the banners.
“When we started, there were 538 names on the monument in Pine Grove Park (in Port Huron),” he said. “This past Memorial Day, there were 21 names added.”
He said volunteers such as Dan Crocker, from Port Huron, have been essential to the effort.
“He handed us five pages broke down by the year and alphabetically,” Weichsler said.
He said the response to the banner project has been positive.
“We did our first presentation of a banner on May 23rd at the Capac Public Library,” Weichsler said. There were 30 people at the presentation, he said, and 29 knew what was coming.
The 30th, Doug Nemecek, was surprised to see a banner honoring his older brother, Richard, a corporal in the U.S. Marines who died during World War II.
Weichsler said the banners will be displayed throughout the county yearly for one week before Memorial Day and one week after.
“Our criteria is if you died in service to your country,” he said.
“When you sign on the dotted line, you are saying, ‘I am willing to sacrifice my life for my country.’”
Weichsler said the project is one way to make sure people who sacrificed for their country are remembered.
“History isn’t being taught in the schools anymore,” he said. “It’s homogenized, it’s diluted.
“We’re hoping the impetus of this project will resonate, will give people pause.”
Boomer said she was happy to see her uncle honored.
“I’m sorry now that I didn’t ask more questions in my younger years,” she said.
Donations to cover the cost of having the banners printed and mounted can be made at: Community Foundation of St. Clair County; Banner Program Fund; 500 Water St., Port Huron, MI 48060 or on the website.
Bob Gross has been a journalist for 40 years in Michigan and Wyoming. He has covered subjects ranging from agriculture to zoology. He most recently covered courts and police for the Port Huron Times Herald.