As the nation celebrated the significant contributions grandparents make with National Grandparents Day on Sept. 8, Pfc. James M. Bilder of Palos Heights, reflects and honors his own heritage.
"There's such a strong pool of knowledge with our past," said Bilder an infantryman with Company A, 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment in Bartonville, Ill. "If we take the time to listen and talk to our grandparents we can learn about not only our families, but also how the world might come around."
Bilder is learning more about his past with the help of his father and author, Jim G. Bilder of Palos Heights, who co-wrote the book "A Foot Soldier for Patton" with his father, Michael C. Bilder. The book is an account of Michael's four and a half years of service during World War II as an infantryman in the 5th Infantry Division, under Lt. Gen. George S. Patton's 3rd Army, published in 2008 by Casemate.
"I wanted to be in the Army since I was 6 or 7 years old," said Bilder. "Naturally, my dad is my hero. I also looked up to my grandpa because he was always there when I was growing up. That always inspired me."
Bilder's grandfather influentialed in him to join the Army National Guard, but he never actually advised him to join or not to join.
"James has wanted to serve for a long time," said Jim. "His grandfather even told him some of the harder realities of military service, especially in the infantry. He didn't discourage him, but he made him aware it isn't just parades and getting to wear a uniform."
Bilder's great grandfather, Leonard F. Fairfield, also served in the Army, giving the family three Soldiers in four generations.
Fairfield served as a forward observer in Battery A, 124th Field Artillery Regiment, part of the 33rd Division, during World War I. The 33rd Division's lineage is held by the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) today, which Bilder is currently serving in. Bilder's grandfather and great grandfather both served in Verdun, France, with Michael fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. Bilder was able to bring all three military careers together in a special way by serving in the 33rd IBCT and also being an infantryman.
With that said, the Bilder family that exists today could have been a distant dream of a Soldier long ago. Bilder rememebered stories from his father that included an enemy's weapon jam and a grenade blast that only resulted in a bloody nose. Michael became known for his fortuitous times as a Soldier.
"One officer said 'Bilder, you've got more luck in one finger than most guys do in their whole body," said Jim.
Bilder said he has much to aspire to when assessing his grandfather's career, but finds his grandfather's accomplishments inspiring, not intimidating. While serving in WWII, Michael was awarded the French Legion of Honor, a Bronze Star Medal with an oak leaf cluster, an American Red Cross Life Saving Medal, two commemorative medals from Czechoslovakia and a Luxembourg Croix de Guerre.
Following in his grandfather's footsteps, Bilder received an Army Achievement Medal for his performance as a radio telephone operator during annual training at Fort McCoy, Wisc., Aug. 7, and was recognized by his battalion sergeant major for his performance during a live-fire exercise July 30.
"It's tremendous for me to have so much pride in my own father, certainly my grandfather, and my son as well," said Jim. "I see so much similarity between my father and my son. They're both very capable, very determined, and they always meet their responsibilities without complaining. That's what I've always been impressed with by both of them."
The Bilder family has found the value of connecting with and remembering the past. Jim Bilder is in the midst of his next project, chronicling stories of his grandfather's military career into a manuscript, which he hopes to have completed by the end of 2013.
Although Fairfield passed away in 1962 and Michael Bilder passed away in 2011, their memory still lives on. Michael's influence on his grandson helped shape him into the man he is today.
"I think about him often because of what he told me about Army life and what I have experienced so far," said Bilder. "I admired his overall character, both the military side and civilian. He was a great role model and a fountain of knowledge, like all grandparents are.The uniforms change, but the heart of the Soldier doesn't."
-Story by Sgt. Jesse Houk, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment