They Died For Us: New Project Tells World War II Raven Heroes’ Stories

One was a friendly student athlete when he was killed in the war; another was in his 30s with two kids. One was a German priest who died giving the sacraments to men who were fighting his native country; another was a monk who died in a prisoner of war camp. Some died in accidents, some died at sea, and we don’t know how many died.

What they all have in common is that they all graduated from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, when it was called St. Benedict’s College and that they all gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

In 1951, just six years after the end of World War II, the college built St. Martin’s Memorial Hall, named in honor of the patron saint of the military. Each of the hall’s  50 rooms includes a plaque honoring a Raven who had fallen in the war. On Veteran’s Day 2021 a Mass for the soldiers was celebrated at St. Benedict’s Abbey. Students processed at Mass to present a rose for each veteran.

Julia Fassero, the college’s archivist, led a project to collect their stories. “What surprised me the most as I was researching these men was how young they were. Twelve of them were younger than me,” said Fassero, 22, “and many others were just a few years older.”

“These men had incredible futures ahead of them,” she added, “and yet still sacrificed their dreams, plans, and ultimately their lives for our nation.”

She used multiple resources to compile the biographies, including records from county and regional historical societies and, in a few cases, interviews with the families of the deceased.

Below are a few of their stories; click here for more and to see where each is honored on campus.

North Arthur Oberlin probably never thought he would die the way he did. He was born in Atchison, Kansas, and attended Benedictine from 1936-1939. He was known for being friendly and enthusiastic. He was serving in the U.S. Naval reserves when a hurricane washed him overboard from his submarine. Efforts to find him failed and he was declared dead on Sept. 13, 1944, at age 25.

Robert Hogan of Abilene, Kansas, briefly attended Benedictine, got married to Mary K. (James) Hogan and the couple had two children, Jean Ann and Bobby. He served in the U.S. Army and was injured on the battlefield in France and succumbed to his wounds Sept. 2, 1944. He is buried at the Epinal American Cemetery and Memorial in France.

Private Donald Lewis Borders was born in Wyaconda, Mo. At Benedictine College, he was an outstanding athlete and quite friendly. He served in the U.S. Army in England, France and Belgium before he was killed in action on Feb. 3, 1945. He was only 19.

Father Leo Rechsteiner was born in  Althan, Wuerttemberg, Germany. As an undergraduate at Benedictine College, he  was a tackle for the intramural football team, and ran the St. Vincent de Paul Society, among other activities. He was ordained in 1940. As a U.S. Army chaplain, he gave last rites to soldiers on the front lines. He was killed in action by the Japanese in Leyte, Philippines, on Oct. 22, 1944 at age 36.

Father Joseph Vanderheiden was a monk from Otoe County, Neb., who became a Captain in the U.S. Army serving as a chaplain for the 5th Air Base Group in the Philippines. He died in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in 1945 at age 33.

Theodore Francis Bartle as Born in Coffeyville, Kansas. He was a member of the 1941–42 Raven football team. 2d Lt. Bartle served in the U.S. Army Air Forces in the 389th Bomb Group, 564th Bomb Squadron on the aircraft. The 23-year-old served on a plane nicknamed “The Old Veteran” and died when the plane exploded over Germany on March 24, 1945.

Ensign Allen Francis Cannell of Colorado Springs, Colo., was a Chemistry major and a member of the Holy Name Society at Benedictine. He served in the U.S. Navy aboard the U.S.S. Minneapolis before he was lost at sea near the Marshall Islands on January 31, 1945, at the age of 21.

“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” Jesus said. The words certainly apply men and women who died for their country in the U.S. armed forces.

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Benedictine College

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is proud to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report as well as one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. It has a mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.