FAIRBURY, Ill. — John Friedman takes pride in being the best at what he does.
While serving in the Army in the Korean War in 1952, he volunteered for the job of flamethrower technician, the soldier who holds a mechanical incendiary device designed to project a long, controllable stream of fire.
"A friend said to me, 'Are you nuts?' " said the 86-year-old Fairbury resident. "But I thought that sounded kind of interesting. Then they told me that when you climb that hill, they are all going to shoot at you because they are taught that a flame sends them to hell, but a bullet sends them to heaven."
"I tell you, I was the best one south of the 38th parallel."
Friedman will commemorate this Memorial Day like many others — attending Memorial Day events, visiting with his buddies, and probably, if anyone knows Friedman, laughing, joking, and playing a few pranks on people.
He is one of seven brothers who were in the service, six in the Army, one in the Navy. An eighth, Glenn, started a family and became a successful mechanic.
"He turned out fine," Friedman said. "The one we joke with is Alvin, the youngest, who went into the Navy and served on an aircraft carrier. We tell people that we established a family rule where every eighth brother has to go into the Navy."
Life was tough growing up for John Friedman. At 12, as was more customary then, he started working as a hired hand. He was drafted six years later and went from a private in June to first sergeant a few months later. Five others were drafted and Richard, the next youngest of the brothers, volunteered.
"I went to the draft board and they said it would probably be four or five years before they got around to me," Richard, who also lives in Fairbury, said. "I didn't want to get settled down and then get drafted so I just went ahead and did it."
Richard, now 77, also served in Korea from 1957 to 1959 in medical supply three miles south of the Demilitarized Zone. He marks every Memorial Day by planting eight flags in his front yard — one for each brother, including Charles, of Normal, who died in April 2012. Charles served in the Korean War as a corporal and received the Bronze Service Star, United Nations Service Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.
The other brothers included Harold, now deceased, and served in Germany; Robert, of Mesa, Ariz., who was in France; and Henry, of Fairbury, who served stateside.
"I was the first to go to Korea," John Friedman said. "Charles and Richard went after I did. They always told me that they had to finish what I started."
But they are all on the same page when it comes to remembering those who didn't make it back.
"Memorial Day is a special day for all of us," Henry Friedman said. "It's tougher to get all of the family together, but we know what the day means for each of us. It's always special."
The memories also will never fade for John Friedman. He enjoys showing off pictures he took while he served, and on display at the Livingston County War Museum is a picture of all seven brothers who were in the service.
"I received a Bronze Star, but I really don't know why, because I didn't do as much as some other guys," he said. "I was called, so I went. But, I saw a lot and learned a lot. But over the years, I have made some great friends and have some great memories."