By Trey Gregory
One hundred forty-five lampposts on campus have a plaque with the name of an alumnus who died in service to their country. Behind each name is a story.
The stories of these deceased alumni are unknown to most except to the friends and family of the fallen heroes.
Frank Jasek, a book preservation specialist in Moody Memorial Library, spent 11 years researching and learning their stories. He wrote the book “Soldiers of the Wooden Cross” to make others aware of the lives and sacrifices of the fallen service members who once walked Baylor’s campus.
One hundred eighty-two Baylor alumni have died in military service.
Thirty-seven of these names from the Civil War and World War I can be found on plaques in Baylor’s Texas Collection in the Carroll Library. The rest of the names from World War II through Operation Iraqi Freedom are on individual lamppost plaques located all over Baylor’s campus.
Jasek did not serve in the military, nor did any members of his immediate family. However, Jasek said his family raised him to respect military service and his family was always patriotic.
“My parents would drop us off at the fair when we were kids and, for some reason, I always made friends with the soldiers,” Jasek said.
Jasek earned a bachelor’s degree in aviation from Southeast State University in 1969.
“I was born the same year that Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier (1947),” Jasek said. “I figure that’s why I have always been fascinated with aviation.”
Jasek’s family business, book binding, brought him to Waco, where he attended Baylor and earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in 1973.
“I say I went to Baylor to meet my wife,” Jasek said. “And I did. I met my wife Janet and we got married in 1978.”
Jasek continued to work for his family business until 1991 when he and his wife decided to become home parents at the Methodist Home Boys Ranch for troubled youths in Waco.
In 1999, Jasek left the boys ranch after taking a job repairing damaged books for Baylor’s Moody Library.
While walking the Baylor campus in the spring of 1999, Jasek noticed a plaque on a lamppost and his curiosity about the story behind that name started his 11-year project.
“I just wanted to make a phone call and see if I could find anybody,” Jasek said.
Many families and friends of the fallen service members answered Jasek’s phone calls and were happy to tell the tales of their loved ones.
However, Jasek still could not account for every story behind every lamppost, so he had more research to do.
“You can’t get personal military files because they have private information,” Jasek said. “But you can get Individual Deceased Personnel Files.”
Individual Deceased Personnel Files usually provide information on a deceased military personnel’s unit, their burial and information on when and where they died. Through these personnel files and the help of Baylor historians, Jasek slowly put the pieces together that created the many stories in his book.
“This book is sobering before you even open it,” said Katherine Ybarra, a Riverside, Calif. sophomore and Army veteran. “It is a very large book with quite a few pages. You know each of those pages has a picture or a story of someone who died serving in the military.”
Jasek found pictures of most of the fallen alumni, but he was unable to find pictures for a few. To supplement an actual picture, Jasek began to create oil paintings of the service members based on their stories.
“Art is my hobby, so I started working on the oil paintings,” Jasek said. “I thought I would tell the story through a painting.”
When Jasek completed his book, he could not find any company to publish it. He could, however, pay to print the book.
Baylor’s Air Force and Army ROTC department bought nine of the oil paintings Jasek used in his book, which raised enough money for Jasek to print 1,000 copies of his book. The paintings are still on display in Baylor’s AFROTC building.
In addition to the help of the ROTC department, Jasek said Dr. T. Michael Parrish, Linden G. Bowers professor of American history, helped him write the Civil War sections and Ben Rogers, director of the W. R. Poage Legislative Library, helped him with his bibliography and endnotes.
“I couldn’t have made this book without Virginia Green,” Jasek said. Green, associate professor in the art department, spent four years helping Jasek design the pages of his book. Jasek has occasional book signings during events such as Family Weekend.
Recently, Jasek spoke about his book and scholarship to the Veteran Educational and Transition Services class taught by Dr. Janet Bagby senior lecturer in the educational psychology department.
“When listening to Frank describe the profiles of these fallen heroes, it is evident this book was truly a labor of love and commitment,” Bagby said.
The book is available for $50 online or in person through Jasek.
With the proceeds from the book, Jasek started the Soldiers of the Wooden Cross Scholarship Fund for veterans, family members of veterans, ROTC cadets and active duty military. The scholarship will be available to these students in 2014 and will pay for tuition and books.
“Community service will probably be the most important criteria to earn the scholarship,” Jasek said.
The Waco Foundation established the scholarship and donations can be made directly to the Soldiers of the Wooden Cross Scholarship Fund.
“Winston Churchill said to never give up,” Jasek said. “I wanted to tell their story. How could I tell their story if I quit? They didn’t quit.”
More information about “The Soldiers of the Wooden Cross” can be found at www.soldierswoodencross.info.