Book tells stories of Lee County’s World War II heroes who never returned home

John Mead of Amboy published a book about the men and women killed during WWII who were from Lee County.

AMBOY – The heroism of U.S. soldiers who fought and paid the ultimate sacrifice in World War II made a lasting impression on Jack Mead and Tom Dempsey.

So much so that they set out to make sure the stories of Lee County soldiers who lost their lives in the war would never be forgotten.

Mead, 73, and Dempsey, 73, longtime friends who grew up in Amboy, met at St. Anne School and graduated from Amboy High School in 1968.

They also collaborated on a book for which they won’t make any money.

Proceeds from book sales go to Amboy American Legion Post 453 Poths-Lavelle. Mead, who served in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1970, is the post commander.

Titled “Ultimate Sacrifice: Lee County Soldiers Who Gave Their Lives in World War II,” the 181-page glossy book features a drawing on the front cover by Doreen Mead, Jack Mead’s wife, that depicts the D-Day invasion in Normandy, France.

Besides the stories of Lee County soldiers who were killed in World War II, the book contains sections on Lee County women who contributed to the war effort, Lee County soldier deaths by theater of war, lists of where Lee County soldiers are buried, an index and research sources.

“World War II was the largest and most violent conflict in human history,” according to a statement on the book’s back cover. “Across America, ordinary citizens offered themselves in the struggle to preserve freedom and human dignity. They fought for a cause, not for conquest.

“These are stories of Lee County soldiers who died for that cause.”

The first story written for what turned out to be the book was about Lt. John Joseph Fanelli of Amboy, who died at age 23 just before the D-Day invasion.

He was the co-pilot of a plane that was supposed to drop 17 paratroopers behind the Normandy beaches. But the plane took flak from German artillery, one of its engines caught fire, and it crashed in a farm field in France, killing everyone on board.

Fanelli officially was listed as “missing in action” for years because his remains weren’t identified.

In the early 1990s, an investigation at the crash site unearthed personal belongings, including dog tags. Fanelli was identified as one of the soldiers who died there.

Fanelli, along with four other flight crew members and 17 paratroopers, are memorialized at Fort Jefferson Barracks in Missouri.

John Mead of Amboy published a book about the men and women killed during WWII who were from Lee County.

While Jack Mead still lives in Amboy with Doreen near his children and grandchildren, Dempsey lives on the East Coast with his wife, Kathy, near his children and grandchildren. He returns to visit Amboy as often as possible.

“The miracle of the cellphone allowed Tom and I to work together on the research and writing of these stories,” Jack Mead said.

The research for the book is meticulous. The writing is highly detailed and to the point.

“Tom did the heavy lifting on the research. And he contacted publishers,” Jack Mead said. “The main thread of the book is telling the stories of small-town guys, most who had not gone to college, being asked to fight a very technical war.”

The book is a compilation of stories that were published in the Amboy News between July 2022 and May 2023.

”The stories kept coming, so we started running them weekly,” said Tonja Greenfield, publisher of the weekly newspaper. “The stories were very well received in the community.”

The book is available for $25 at Books on First, 202 W. First St. in Dixon, or through the bookstore’s website, Call the store at 815-285-2665.

Encouraged by the emotional feedback they’ve gotten, Mead and Dempsey have started researching and writing stories about Lee County soldiers who died in World War I. He said they started the World War I project about a year ago.

The first two stories are about Harry Poths and Thomas Lavelle, for whom the American Legion post in Amboy is named.

“It’s still up in the air about making the stories into a book. We’ll probably do it,” Jack Mead said. “We hope to have all the stories done by Memorial Day 2024. Then we’ll make a decision on the book.”