My uncle enjoys estate sale shopping, so in 2016, when he was cleaning out his house in order to move, he came across many interesting items that he had acquired over the years. One of those items included a booklet, bound in an unassuming, brown cover. Inside this booklet, dated 1944 (the year before World War II ended), it says, “Assyrian Americans of Chicago who are serving in the armed forces of their country. Assyrian National Association of Chicago, Inc.” With the exception of a brief introduction to who Assyrians are, the rest of this booklet depicts black and white photos of Assyrian soldiers, listed in alphabetical order by last name. My uncle knew that I would enjoy this book, so he gave it to me. Ever since then, I have attempted to track down its history.
Because my uncle purchased the booklet from an estate sale, I assume that the estate sale must have been happening because one of the soldiers depicted in the book had died. Unfortunately, I cannot confirm this guess, but I did learn other interesting facts about the book. First of all, I tried to discover what became of the Assyrian National Association of Chicago. I eventually learned that it was renamed the Assyrian American Association of Chicago, which does still exist.
As I continued digging, I learned that the Ashurbanipal Library, an Assyrian library belonging to another Assyrian organization, the Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation, did not own this book in its collection. However, it owned multiple reprints of it. This reprint edition was published in 1993 by the American Assyrian Amvet Post #5, in order to raise money for a war memorial in Elmwood Cemetery. As I did more research, I found two Chicago Tribune articles about how one of the soldiers pictured in the book, John Hosanna, worked tirelessly to create this war memorial. Unfortunately, Hosanna, who began the campaign in 1992, died a month before the memorial’s completion in 1997 (see https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1998-04-05-9804050286-story.html).
My research eventually led me to visit the Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois. This cemetery used to be an American Civil War post before it became a graveyard, so it now has some Civil War memorials. An Assyrian Church eventually purchased plots in this cemetery. Section 45 not only has the Assyrian War Memorial, but also contains numerous Assyrian graves, many of which have tombstones written in the Aramaic script, Syriac. The majority of these graves date to the first half of the twentieth century. (Most of the more recent Assyrian graves can be found at the Montrose Cemetery in Chicago, including the grave of the late Assyrian Church of the East patriarch, Mar Dinkha IV).
Much research has been done on the history of different minority groups who served in World War II. However, that is not generally the case for Assyrians. For instance, most people do not know that the U.S. diplomat in Japan during World War II, Eugene Dooman, was Assyrian. He grew up in Japan because his parents were Assyrian missionaries from Iran serving there. Additionally, not many know about the Assyrian Levies from Iraq, who helped the British during World War II. Since the British oversaw Iraq during that time, these Assyrians were some of the many men from British territories and colonies who fought in the British army during WWII. Hopefully, more research will be done in the future, but in the meantime, we can be thankful for men like John Hosanna, who worked hard in preserving a bit of history.
Sources and Further Reading
“Assyrian AmVets Memorial.” The American Legion. https://www.legion.org/memorials/238719/assyrian-amvets-memorial (accessed October 12, 2019).
Borsky, Daniel. “Veterans Hope to Set Memories in Marble.” Chicago Tribune, July 29, 1996. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1996-07-29-9607290187-story.html (accessed October 12, 2019).
“Elmwood Cemetery and Mausoleum.” Dignity Memorial. https://www.dignitymemorial.com/funeral-homes/river-grove-il/elmwood-cemetery-and-mausoleum/6246 (accessed October 12, 2019).
“Forest Park Cemeteries.” The Historical Society Forest Park. https://www.forestparkhistory.org/forest-park-cemeteries.html (accessed October 12, 2019).
“Our History.” Montrose Cemetery and Crematorium. http://montrosecemetery.com/History.html (accessed October 12, 2019).
Peters, Lincoln R. Biak-Zambo: A Story of Two Soldiers. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2000.
Sclair, Helen. Encyclopedia of Chicago, s.v. “Cemeteries.” Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 2005. http://encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/223.html (accessed October 12, 2019).
Shavit, David. The United States in Asia: A Historical Dictionary. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.
Shoumanov, Vasili. Assyrian American Association of Chicago: 100 Years. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2018.
Zielinski, Graeme. “Last Chance for Immortality.” Chicago Tribune, April 5, 1998. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1998-04-05-9804050286-story.html (accessed October 12, 2019).