LAKE ST. LOUIS — Ralph Barrale vividly recalls the day he was playing craps with six friends when a man ran up and told them the Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor. All seven soon went off to war.
"Of the seven guys who were playing craps, you know how many came back?" Barrale asked. He motioned to himself.
Now 88 and living in the St. Louis suburb of Lake St. Louis, Barrale is still working to ensure that the memories of veterans like his friends never die. The Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis reported that Barrale has been the driving force behind projects such as naming a Missouri River crossing as the Veterans Memorial Bridge, naming a St. Charles County outer road along Interstate 70 as Veterans Memorial Parkway and establishing Veterans Memorial Park in Lake St. Louis.
Barrale realized in 1998 there were few memorials in the St. Charles County area to recognize veterans. He took it upon himself to change that.
In addition to being the driving force behind the park and the naming of the bridge and roadway, Barrale has participated in "honor flights" taking veterans to Washington to visit memorials.
He was honored Nov. 5 by the Lake Saint Louis Board of Aldermen.
Barrale wasn't yet out of high school when he was drafted into World War II in 1943. He became a military policeman and ended up a member of Gen. George Patton's Third Army, participating in the Battle of the Bulge. His unit was among the first to arrive at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany.
He came home in 1946 and married Rose, still by his side and also 88. Ralph worked 30 years for Continental Can Co., and Rose worked at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Florissant, where they lived for many years and raised three children.
Barrale became active in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, serving as commander of the Lake Saint Louis post and organizing reunions of his MP outfit for almost a decade.
Visiting Europe in recent decades and going to the battlefields there also gave the Barrales a sense of the sacrifice made by so many.
"Every town that we came to had some sort of monument, either a tank or artillery piece," he said. "When the kids from Belgium found out that we were veterans from World War II, they would come up to us, look at us and say, 'Thank you for our liberty.' God, if that doesn't shake you up."