Originally published in The Rock River Times.
“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” — G.K. Chesterton
Donald Hamilton Brown, an African-American, was born in Jackson, Tennessee, on June 22, 1925, to Mr. and Mrs. Robert Brown. His family moved to Rockford a year later.
Donald was raised in Rockford and seemed to excel at all he attempted. He attended Blake Elementary School and West High School, and was on the track team. Donald was a talented athlete, and is featured in the West High yearbooks for 1940 and 1941 and mentioned in the Rockford paper. He set a record for the high jump and built a reputation for his skills for the hurdles. He graduated in May 1942, and then headed to Wilberforce University in Ohio. He attended college there until he joined the United States Navy in 1944.
Donald served in the Pacific campaign and reached the rank of Yeoman 2nd class. His duties included clerical work. He dealt with mail and telephone calls, handled visitors, organized files, and ordered and distributed supplies. From all accounts, Donald was very efficient at handling his many duties.
In 1945, Donald was in the Marshall Islands in support of the invasions there. The Marshall Islands were ruled by the Japanese during the 1930s and 1940s. It was an important geographical position, and the Japanese built military bases there in the 1930s to fortify their Eastern defenses. The United States invaded the islands in 1944, causing major damage to the bases and the islands themselves. Many Japanese people died because of lack of food and injuries during the time of 1943 to 1945.
While he was stationed on the Marshall Islands, Donald would lose his life. The newspaper articles only said that Donald died by drowning, serving his country on Sept. 23, 1945, when he was 20 years old. Though he died in 1945, Donald’s body was not returned to Rockford until November 1947.
Ten different military organizations met at the Memorial Hall in Rockford to discuss and organize the handling of the returning war dead to ensure they all received full military honors and burials. Harry P. Dannenberg was chosen to represent the organizations as the Winnebago County service officer. Donald was one of the first of the 462 dead war heroes to return home.
Donald Brown’s funeral service was at Allen Chapel, and the Rev. G.I. Holt officiated the services. Military rites were conducted by the members of the Jefferson Horton Post, American Legion Brown Webster Post, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Navy Club of Rockford. Donald was buried at Greenwood Cemetery.
Donald had two brothers, Richard and Robert, who also served in the war. Robert served in the Pacific, and Richard served in the European campaign. Both of these men returned home after the war and lived their lives here, raising families and making major contributions to the Rockford community.
Donald Brown took pride in representing his school in track meets and serving his country by wearing the uniform of the United States Navy.
Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events