Alumnus’ book honors Baylor’s fallen soldiers

Frank Jasek presents his new book, “Soldiers of the Wooden Cross: Military Memorials of Baylor University” Sunday. The book chronicles the lives and legacies of Baylor alumni whose names appear on the memorial lampposts around campus.
Courtesy Photo

By Grace Gaddy

More than a decade of compiled research highlighting the lives and legacies of Baylor’s fallen soldiers has been published and released in book form.

The project, titled “Soldiers of the Wooden Cross: Military Memorials of Baylor University,” grew from the curiosity of Frank Jasek, a 1973 Baylor graduate who for the past 15 years has worked in Moody Memorial Library as a book preservation specialist.

Strolling along campus as a student and later as a worker, Jasek said he often observed the memorial lampposts throughout the landscape. Lampposts adorned with brass shield-shaped plaques— 144 of them — were set to commemorate Baylor alumni who died while serving in the armed forces. Plaques include the name of the honored, branch of service, years at Baylor and the year of death.

But Jasek said he needed more— to know more, to understand more.

“I just wanted to find out who they were,” he said. “I saw the plaques, and I wondered who these people were, what their personalities were like, what happened to them…to their families.”

The questions were worth searching out, Jasek decided. So he did. He picked up the telephone.

“That’s what started the research for me to publish the book,” he explained. “And I’ve been contacting the families and been working on it for about 10 years— 10 or 11,” he said.

The book, now in its final stages, currently boasts more than 321 pages, including photographs, letters, diary pages and more, including nine oil paintings by Jasek himself, which he created for illustrations to accompany stories with less information or photos.

The goal was to open a window into each soldier’s life, Jasek said.

Take Oliver Goldsmith, for instance.

“It was in Clearwater, Florida, 1942, and they were practicing combat,” Jasek said, motioning to his painting of two P-40F Warhawk aircraft in the sky.

“They entered the clouds, and they came out of the clouds. They hit head on,” Jasek said.

Then there was the story of John Galen Lawrence during World War II. Jasek opened his book and pointed to the soft-featured face of an adolescent, frozen in sepia in a double-breasted suit.

“He entered Baylor at the age of 13,” Jasek said. “He graduated cum laude at 17, and he was a professor at A&M shortly. Then he was drafted into the 96th infantry division and killed on Okinawa.”

For each plaque, Jasek hunted down the information, contacting family members, descendants, nieces, nephews.

“I spent a lot of hours on the telephone. Are you a descendant of Oliver Goldsmith?” he said.

“Um, no I’m not,” was a recurring reply.

But every once in a while, Jasek would find what he was looking for —that special story, like the author of the Baylor Long Yell, the picture taken with President Lyndon Johnson, the former NoZe Brothers, the artist whose work appeared in the Baylor Round Up yearbook, and more.

As stories unfolded, the book came together, as did a closer look into the lives and legacies behind the names on the lampposts.

The Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Marines—all were represented, from the Civil War to the war in Iraq.

To remember their stories is tremendously important, Jasek said, “because they gave their lives so that we could come to this university and say the things that we want to say and be free.”

Jasek was not alone in his passion. Several faculty and members of the Baylor family jumped in to help with the project, he said.

One of them was Virginia Green, graphic design professor in the art department.

Green contributed her skills in page design and layout to turn Jasek’s vision for the book into reality.

“Frank would take his history on a sheet of paper and make a spread,” Green said. “So he would cut and paste all of the content that he had compiled.”

From that point, it was a matter of putting the pages together, and many had to be rescanned as content would be added or edited. Green did a lot of shifting and scale-changing during the process using software such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

“I think the work that [Jasek] does is very valid to Baylor, and I want to do all I can to make sure that it gets published, that it becomes recognized,” she said. “People pass by these plaques everyday, and they don’t even know what they are or understand the commitment these people had during the war.”

“It just touches my heart— what he’s doing for the servicemen who have fallen and have been alumni at Baylor, and I just wanted to help,” Green said.

Other faculty members also contributed to the work, such as Susan Mullally, assistant professor of art, and Dr. Michael Parrish, professor of history.

Mullally reshot pictures of plaques, and Parrish wrote several short biographies of the soldiers in the Civil War.

Carol Schuetz, a reference librarian in Jesse H. Jones Library, helped with bibliographies.

Jasek said his biggest supporter was his wife, Janet, who also works in the library within the interlibrary loans department.

“Now it’s almost completely finished,” Janet said about her husband’s undertaking. “We’re needing to get a forward, and then the last-minute editing, proofreading and then publishing it. So now we need the funds to see that happen.”

Currently Jasek is working to garner support through sponsorship or donations. A bookbinder by speciality, Jasek bound the book himself and is also looking to self-publish, a venture he deemed “Memorial Publishing.”

Glancing down at a copy of the finished work on his desk, Jasek said it was nice to see all of his efforts and research come together. “You want to go further. You want other people to see it. You want the alumni to see it and know these young men’s stories,” he said. “We can’t forget the legacy that they’ve given us.”

Pre-publication orders for the book are available at a discounted rate of $30. To order a book, call 254-853-2561.