Johannes S. Anderson Oak Park's Own 'Sergeant York'
November 11th is now known as Veterans’ Day, but originally it was called Armistice Day, marking the anniversary of the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” in 1918 when the guns on all fronts of “The Great War” fell silent, ending four years of unprecedented carnage that took the lives of over 8 million soldiers, sailors and airmen. Although the United States entered the fighting just 18 months before the war’s end, 118,000 American lives were sacrificed in a conflict that so shocked the world that what we now call World War I was mistakenly thought to be “the war to end all wars.”
One of those American doughboys who fought and survived to return to Oak Park was a Finnish-born immigrant, Johannes Siegfried Anderson, who after the war made his home at 1182 S. Scoville Avenue, where he lived until his death in 1950. During those postwar years his most prized possession was his Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest decoration awarded to members of the U.S. military.
Since its creation in 1862 only some 3400 Medals of Honor have been awarded. In all of World War I there were just 128 medals awarded, and Anderson apparently was the Oak Park area’s only recipient. The Medal of Honor is awarded for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidness above and beyond the call of duty”. The single word inscribed in the panel above the five-pointed cross is “Valor”.
Based on his medal citation, Johannes Anderson qualified on all counts. Barely one month before the end of the war on October 8, 1918, thirty-one year old First Sergeant Anderson, Company B, 132nd Infantry, 33rd Infantry Division, found himself and the rest of his company pinned down by German machine gun fire in a field near Consenvoye France. He volunteered to attempt to outflank the German position, although it involved moving over open terrain exposed to enemy fire. He not only silenced the machine gun but single-handedly captured 23 German soldiers. His actions that day certainly qualified as conspicuous gallantry and a demonstration of true valor. Tennessee might claim the more famous Sergeant Alvin York as its World War I hero, and although Anderson wasn’t born here, Oak Park can be proud of its own Medal of Honor recipient.
Johannes Anderson emigrated from Finland in the early 1900s, settling in Chicago. After the war he married Esther Anderson in 1920, and they moved to Oak Park where they raised two children, Mildred and Karl. Johannes worked as a carpenter doing building construction.
Because he lived in and enlisted in Chicago, Anderson’s name does not appear on the war memorial in Scoville Park. But Johannes S. Anderson deserves a place in our observance of a holiday honoring all of America’s heroes, living and dead.
Submitted by Bob Messer 11/02/2012
Sources: Peggy Sinko; Hall of Valor, military times.com; homeofheroes.com; finda grave.com; wikipedia.org; Bill Harris, The Congressional Medal of Honor, Portland House, 1990.