July 11, 2010

Lawrence 'Slats' Trower 1925-2010

Slats Trower, bottom left, seated
June 28, 2010 -- We buried Marine Iwo Jima veteran Slats Trower (B/1/24) today in his Arthur, Illinois, hometown. His given name was Lawrence, but everybody knew him as Slats for his lean, wiry body that was full of energy for helping his family, community and country have the best life they could. Before he was wounded on Iwo Jima on March 4, 1945, he'd promised himself and his maker that if he survived the battle he would return to Arthur and never leave and would be "the best man he could."
After narrowly escaping with his life several times, he had his head down reloading his Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) when a mortar exploded nearby and filled his body with shrapnel, some of which was still working out of his hands and other places at the end of his life, and he was carried off the island unconscious. He later woke on the hospital ship taking him to an Army hospital in Saipan. The pungent odor of rotting flesh was so strong that he later said, "It took my breath away."
After a few days on Saipan, Slats was transferred to the Naval hospital at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where he often said he was "nursed back to health by drinking large quantities of fresh milk." In a piece his granddaughter Keri Sowers wrote, titled "Lawrence Trower's Recollection of Iwo Jima," Slats, who was raised on a dairy farm in the Breadbasket of the World, said, “They had fresh milk in five-gallon buckets with a spigot on it. All we had been drinking was powdered milk. Here, I could drink all the milk I wanted. I love milk. I drank so much milk, I could moo."
By April 20, 1945, Slats was able to rejoin his outfit for training in Maui, preparing for the invasion of Japan. Before that happened, two atomic bombs were dropped, one on Hiroshima and one on Nagasoki and Japan surrendered. Slats and his outfit were sent to Okinawa where he worked first as a turnkey in a brig that was full of Japanese prisoners of war and Americans from all branches of service who had violated military rules, then as a military policeman.
With the war over two years after he was graduated from high school in 1944 and with less than two years as a United States Marine, Slats was discharged and arrived back home in Arthur to stay. Two years alter, he married Jane Craig to whom he was married 62 years and who survives him as do three daughters, Cheryl (Dan) Jackson, Connie (John) Armer, Cindy (Steve) Helton, six grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. Slats worked at nearby Quantum Chemical Corporation for 36 and one half years and ran a refrigeration business for several years.
Being a devoted family man and the best man he could be was evident in his lifetime activities after he came home from the war. I first met him in 2005 after I came back from the 60th Anniversary Reunion of Honor on the island and started forming a local Marine Corps League. So I knew quite a bit about him. But other details form his obituary follow:
"Slats was a member of the Arthur Vine Street Christian Church for more than 60 years and served as an elder and youth mentor for more than 60 years. He was a charter member and past president of the Arthur Lions Club, a member of the Arthur Masonic Lodge for 54 years and 32nd-degree Mason form the Danville Consistory, a member and past commander of the Arthur VFW Post 479, a member of the American Legion for 61 years and a member of the Urbana-Champaign Richard L. Pittman Marine Corps League #1231, named after a local Marine killed at the foot of Mt. Suribachi on Feb. 21, 1945.
"Slats was awarded the Meldin Jones Fellow by Lions Club International for dedicated humanitarian services in 1989; he received a plaque from the American Legion as the most outstanding fundraiser in 1989 for selling raffle tickets and raising money; he received the State Master Gardener Excellence Award from the University of Illinois in 2003.
“For 14 years, Slats raised tomatoes for the VFW Post that provided (thousands of dollars of) scholarships for Arthur-Lovington High School graduates. He also worked with Melissa Rush's class and the fifth-and sixth-grade students in Arthur in growing vegetables and then giving the produce to food banks, churches and families in need. He loved working with the students and the community.
“In February 2006, State Reps. Bob Flider and Chapin Rose presented Slats with a copy of a resolution of the Illinois House Representatives for winning the 2005 Humanitarian Award from the Arthur Association of Commerce. In September 2009, Slats was honored to go on the Central Illinois Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II Memorial (accompanied as a guardian by his son-in-law John Armer. By this time, Slats was in extremely poor health but said he'd go 'even if I have to crawl.' He was pushed around in a wheel chair most of the day by his son-in-law and was in it when Senator Bob Dole stepped up behind him and rested his hand on Slats' shoulder for a photo.
Crawling or doing whatever he had to do to get the job done was pretty much his philosophy of life and how he went about being the best man he could after coming home to Arthur. People sometimes asked him how he could do all the things he did. Always an outspoken man with colorful language, he would reply, "By getting up off your ass and doing it."
At his visitation yesterday before the funeral, scheduled for 5-8 p.m., people lined up outside the funeral home and a steady stream of people from around central Illinois stood patiently through the slow moving line that wrapped around inside the funeral home until nearly 10 p.m. One man on his way to the visitation from more than 50 miles away had been stopped for speeding by a policeman who asked what was the hurry on a Sunday afternoon.
“I'm going to a visitation for Lawrence Trower in Arthur," the man replied.
“You mean Slats Trower, don't you?" the policeman responded, handing back his driver's license. "Slow down and make sure you get there."
The funeral today was quite fitting for a man of Slats' stature. The church was filled with family and friends who viewed a Power Point presentation of photos while music played in the background. After saying a few words, the minister asked people to share memories of Slats. That went on for a full 15 minutes before the minister added his own thoughts in a heartfelt sermon.
In his last days lying in the hospital bed while he fought to live on, Slats sometimes flashed back to the days of battle on the island and hollered out about killing the enemy and tried to remove his oxygen lines while asking for more oxygen. In the end, it was one time he couldn't get "up off his ass and do it."
At the cemetery a color guard of four local VFW and American Legion members stood tall with flags and rifles; seven Marine Corps League members stood ready for a three volley rifle salute when the order came from the commander of the unit; a bagpiper from the Champaign fire department played "Going Home" on the bagpipe while the casket was taken to the burial site; and after a few words from the minister, two active duty Marines sergeants in dress blues folded the American flag and presented it to the commandant of the Marine Corps League who in turn leaned down toward Jane Trower and presented her with the flag "On behalf of a grateful nation... ." Another one would later be presented to her by U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, who had one flown in Slats' honor over the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
As people started drifting away from the tent, a group of Marines, friends and relatives stayed back while a bottle of Crown Royale was opened and anyone who wished to poured a shot in a plastic shot glass or took a swig straight from the bottle and toasted Slats.
A local ABC affiliate had sent a camera person and a reporter to cover the funeral and will make the footage available to Diane Hawkins, niece of John Basilone, who is making a documentary about the legacy of her Medal of Honor and Navy Cross recipient uncle who was killed on Feb. 19, 1945, on Iwo Jima. And Bruce Harrison, a recent University of Illinois journalism graduate was also there filming the funeral for the same reason and reported on the funeral for AM 580, the PBS station at the University of Illinois.
Slats Trower was certainly a part of the legacy of John Basilone who led the way for thousands of Marines and Americans who survived the war and lived a good life from the sacrifice of so many. I was both honored and proud to have known Slats and to be a part of his life and helping give him a wonderful parting of the life he was given.
Sadly, the only negative part of the final ceremony for a truly great man and Marine was that the Marine Corps League khaki short-sleeved shirt that set us off as Marines has been outlawed and replaced with a white shirt that is like the uniform shirts of other veterans' organization. I can just hear Slats commenting on that one: “We need to get up off our asses and get that changed and go back to looking like Marines.” And he would have been leading the charge.