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Rader family connected through service, sacrifice

  • Pictured are, from left, Russ Rader, George Rader, Charlie Rader and Wilbur "Wib" Rader in an undated photo.

    Pictured are, from left, Russ Rader, George Rader, Charlie Rader and Wilbur "Wib" Rader in an undated photo.
    Provided by Linda Rader

By Pete Spitler
updated: 11/9/2017 11:16 AM

EDITOR'S NOTE: Read more about southern Illinois's veterans in our 20-page special section included with the print edition of this week's issue of the newspaper.

The Rader family of Chester has given much to the country's armed forces.

Four brothers - Charlie, George, Wilbur and Russ - served in the U.S. Marines during the Vietnam War. Three of the four were deployed to the conflict.

One never made it home alive.

"All four of us were in the Marines and my oldest brother, Wilbur, went over in 1964," said Russ Rader, who is now an alderman on the Chester City Council. "My next brother, Charlie, went over there in 1965 and got killed in March of 1966."

Serving as a M-60 machine gunner in Vietnam from February 1965 to March 1966, Lance Cpl. Charlie Rader had only six days left overseas when he stepped on a landmine and was killed.

Only two weeks shy of his 21st birthday, he was and will forever remain as Randolph County's first casualty of the war.

"My third brother, George, was in boot camp when my other brother got killed," Russ said.

As the sixth of eight children born into the marriage of George and Sylvia Rader, Russ talked about a humble upbringing and meager means.

"There were eight kids in our family, so we were a poor family," Russ said. "Wib (Wilbur) and Charlie had paper routes and one Christmas, they saved up and bought me a coonskin cap and a rifle.

"Those were the kind of guys they were."

George became a truck driver with the Marines' Motor Transport, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Machine Division, hauling ammunition and other supplies from Da Nang to the Demilitarized Zone. He was discharged on January 4, 1968 and now lives in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

"George got drafted into the Army, but he didn't want to go in the Army, so he enlisted in the Marines," Russ said. "I went in because my brothers told me they'd kill me if I joined the Marines, but I joined anyway."

Wilbur, like Charlie, also served as a M-60 machine gunner. He was discharged in 1965 and died in 1996 from cancerous brain tumours.

Russ told the Herald Tribune of an encounter with a corporal who may have inadvertently saved his life. The corporal, whose name Russ could not recall, gave Russ the option of serving in Okinawa or Vietnam.

"I told him I don't care where I go," Russ recalled. "I told him 'I've got buddies in Okinawa and I've got buddies in Vietnam, I don't care where I go.'"

Russ said the corporal asked him if he was crazy, to which he replied that the corporal could pick whichever rubber stamp he wanted - Okinawa or Vietnam.

"He probably saved my life sending me (to Okinawa)," Russ said. "If I had been over there (in Vietnam), it would have been during the Tet Offensive, which was the worst time."

Back home in the U.S., the war was an unpopular one and many veterans were vilified and disrespected upon their return. Russ said he has never regretted joining the service, but called the conflict an "unlikeable war."

"A lot of the guys didn't want to wear their uniforms when they got out," he said. "Now, when you wear your military hat, people come up to you and thank you for your service.

"It makes me feel better about it now."

As time has gone on, the American public's stance toward Vietnam and its veterans has undergone a major change. In 1986, 200,000 Vietnam vets came from all over the country to Chicago for the Welcome Home parade.

The Vietnam Wall in Washington D.C. is one of that city's most-visited monuments and the touring walls that travel the country are highly sought after.

Russ also credits the recent Ken Burns's PBS Vietnam series for helping bring additional perspective on the war.

"I hated Vietnam, especially for losing a brother over there," he said. "(The special) gave me a different perspective.

"It showed Vietnam's side of it and you get a different perspective about that and a country wanting their freedom, just the same as we were wanting."