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Moments in History

America’s No. 1 War Dad

When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor ​on December 7, 1941, three former Boys Town residents died along with the more than 2,000 other victims of the attack. Over the ensuing war years, Father Flanagan received letters from many of the thousand former Boys Town citizens fighting in Europe and the Pacific. In ​fact, so many former Boys ​Town boys named Father Flanagan as their next of kin that the American War Dads Association named him as America’s No. 1 War Dad. Learn more when you watch the video below.

Male: President Franklin D. Roosevelt called December 7, 1941, a date that would live in infamy. When Japanese fighter planes brazenly bombed the American military base at Pearl Harbor, the nation was left stunned and grieving, and America was plunged into war. More than 2000 died that day, including 3 young men who had called Boys Town home. A fourth, Walter Clark, survived and wrote to Father Flanagan.

Walter Clark: The 7th of December was a peaceful morning. The sun was just coming over the mountains and at 7:50 a.m. death and destruction came out of the sky.

Male: Clark's letter was one of hundreds written to Father by young men who put pen to paper during the quiet hours when they huddled in cold, muddy fox holes throughout Europe or laid down in cramped sleeping quarters as they sailed the high seas. As many as a thousand former Boys Town citizens were wearing America's uniform. To them, Father was a confidant, advocate and friend, but more importantly for many, he was the most meaningful and profound sense of the word.

S.J.: Dear Father, one of the greatest pleasures awaiting my return is a visit to the home. It is a veritable part of me. I am continually thinking about my life there, and it has always influenced me greatly for the better. There are countless good deeds to your credit that you have long forgotten, but not so the lads that were the recipients of this kindness. You, along with my family, are always in my prayers. God bless you, Father. Reverently, your first boy, S.J. Sudica [SP], somewhere in the south Pacific.

Male: So many former Boys Town citizens had named Father Flanagan as their next of kin that the American War Dads Association honored him with a plaque declaring him America's number one war dad. Father Flanagan was honored to have that title. So, while his boys bravely fought on the front lines, he tirelessly supported the war effort on the home front. He traveled the country encouraging Americans to financially support the war effort by buying war bonds. He also toured U.S. bases around the world to boost morale, and he assisted the U.S. Attorney General in measuring the effects of the war on families. Father knew all too well the pain and heartache of war. He shared his sorrows in the letters he wrote to the family and friends of his boys who had paid the ultimate price.

Father Flanagan: My Dear Mrs. Hockley [SP], your letter received telling me the sad news of the death of James Burns [SP] was really a shock to us as I had such a nice letter from him written on October 9, just 4 days before he was reported killed in action. It seems that we are losing so many of our boys, and while we know they die a glorious death, it is hard to realize they will not come back to us.

Male: America's number one war dad had inspired a love of country, duty, sacrifice and service in the hearts of every Boys Town citizen. And when the nation was in peril, these young men answered the call serving heroically and selflessly. Since Boys Town's founding in 1917, thousands of former citizens have proudly served in the country's armed forces both in war time and in peace. Nearly 70 are known to have died in combat and scores more have been wounded. Boys Town is proud of all of its former citizens, men and women, who have served in uniform and made the sacrifices such services require. They are a testament to and legacy of Father Flanagan's life, a man who taught and inspired children to become individuals of honor, character and courage.

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