Editor’s note: This is the first of a six-part story.
Georgia Donisch of Plainfield is 85 years old.
But she can still hear the sounds of the footsteps of the soldiers marching to Union Station in Joliet to serve in World War II, hundreds of men, Donisch said.
Donisch stood by the railroad tracks with her mother, grandfather and Donisch’s two sisters and brother, waiting for a glimpse of her father, Arthur Countryman, who was also leaving to serve.
“They marched them all the way from the armory, up the steps to the back of the old station,” Donisch said. “I can still hear the sound and that has always stuck with me. I could hear it coming across the tracks. He kissed us all and then got on the train and left.”
That was last time Donisch – or anyone in her family – ever saw him.
On June 15, her nephew Brian Papesh received a call from the Army Repatriation Division. Countryman’s remains were just positively identified. Countryman, a technical sergeant whom Papesh said “looked like George Clooney,” was deemed missing in action in Germany’s Hürtgen Forest during World War II.
“The gentleman said he needs a couple of hours to spend with us to go over the full report,” Papesh said. “We don’t know if he found a substantial amount of human remains or just a small box of fragments.”
Papesh couldn’t believe his grandfather was actually coming home – and that two of Arthur’s four children were still alive to witness it. The plan was to bury him with full military honors next to his wife in Plainfield Township Cemetery, Brian said.
“He’d been gone 77 years,” Papesh said. “Never in our lives did we expect to bring home Grandpa.”
Papesh said his mother, Mary Papesh, 90, of Joliet, has some dementia but remembers the past very well and was excited to hear the news.
“She’s just in tears over the whole thing,” Brian said.
Plainfield Mayor John Argoudelis said “it’s quite a story” that “someone who was missing or lost for so long was found and returned to Plainfield,” and people were excited when they heard about it.
“There’s a strong pride in the history of our town,” Argoudelis said. “We’ve accomplished a lot over the decades and centuries.”
Argoudelis said that Plainfield, as Will County’s oldest community, has a long history of residents who served in various wars, including the Civil War, the Spanish American War and World War I, and those residents are commemorated at a war monument at Settlers Park in Plainfield.
“Arthur Countryman is just one of those fine people from Plainfield who served our country,” Argoudelis said.