Memorial Day | Brothers' connection outlived loss in war

Memorial Day | Brothers' connection outlived loss in war

For 73 years of his 91 years, Don Pittman carried a certain sorrow through his life.

Not that he let it stop him from accomplishing a great deal. After serving in the military in World War II, Pittman went on to become a Hall of Fame wrestling coach at Danville and Champaign Central.

But losing his older brother, Dick, in the battle of Iwo Jima, stuck with him.

"My dad was kind of a quiet person, and even though he carried a lot of sadness from losing his brother because they were very, very close, he was never bitter," said his daughter, Donna Pittman. "He was always a very positive person, he was a kind person, he was a humble person. He spoke very humbly about his experiences in the military."

Don and Dick shared an unbreakable bond as kids. Their mother left when Don was two. When Don was five, they were taken to Cunningham Children's Home.

"That was, of course, traumatic," Donna said. "They just kind of held onto each other and laid down in the grass and cried. But they were holding onto each other.

"They really clung together, and his brother was really his protector and his best friend and all he had."

Don and Dick, who were two years apart in age, went on to have impressive careers as football players and wrestlers at Urbana before joining the military, Don in the Navy and Dick in the Marines. To this day, Urbana's top lineman gets an award in Dick's name, complete with a bronze trophy of his shoe.

Both were stationed in the South Pacific, but over a month had passed when Don was notified of his brother's death.

Donna didn't hear much about her uncle growing up, at least from her father. Later in life, though, he opened up.

"He told me that I would have liked him, and he wished I would have known him, because he was a fun person," Donna said.

The reminders of Dick's short life are ever-present. In 1977, he was named to the Urbana Sports Hall of Fame, and in 2005, the local Marine Corps League post was named after him.

But Donna has made an effort to keep a connection with an uncle she never knew. In 2011, she accompanied her father on an honor flight, which took him to see the Iwo Jima Memorial, and in June, she'll visit his grave at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. She'll be the first in her family to make the trip.

So on Memorial Day, Donna Pittman and her family, including her brother, Dick, will remember one member of the military who lived a long, full life, and one who died in the line of duty 74 years ago.

"I feel like my family's remembered him," she said. "I appreciate that we need to remember all of the loss that happened during that war and all of the families who lost people and all of the young lives that were lost."

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