1 of 2
Dean Browning with the military medals and awards conferred upon him during World War II.
2 of 2
Dean Browning in a picture from his military service.
The word “hero” is overused today. Sports stars and public figures are casually referred to as heroes. True heroes are far rarer and seldom draw attention to themselves. A real hero has lived in our community since 1951.
Dean Browning was born in the town of Annawan in upstate Illinois in 1926. Growing up there, he was poignantly aware of World War II as he entered his high school years.
“I delivered the Chicago Tribune so I saw the stories about the war every day,” he said.
In high school, Browning was athletic, playing on a basketball team that won 19 consecutive games with only seven players. The war, however, was always a presence. He received his draft notice while still in school. However, the superintendent intervened to postpone his entry in the military until he graduated.
Entering the Army in August 1944, Browning trained at Fort Hood in Texas and served at Oakland Army Base before shipping out to the Pacific Theater. He sailed to New Guinea, then to Leyte in the Philippines. During his first night there and for several nights afterward, his unit was bombed by the Japanese. His unit then sailed to Luzon to secure the island as a step toward attacking Japan. Key to the campaign was the capture of Balete Pass in the Caraballo Mountains.
Browning served in the 25th Tropic Lightning Division, 35th Cacti Infantry Regiment, Anti-Tank Company during the operation. The campaign consisted of routing out thousands of Japanese troops from caves on the island. Browning’s unit moved north along Highway 5 under constant combat conditions.
“Many of the caves ran for hundreds of feet and getting the Japanese out was dangerous and difficult,” he explained.
Browning’s unit saw combat for 165 consecutive days during the campaign. He said nights were particularly dangerous because it was hard to differentiate the enemy from the shifting moon shadows.
Balete Pass finally was captured on May 13, 1945, with 7,403 Japanese casualties and 2,355 from the 25th Division killed or wounded. Browning was recognized with numerous awards, including the Bronze Star for Meritorious Service. The Bronze Star is one of the highest military awards conferred.
Discharged in August 1946, Browning returned to Illinois, soon enrolling in college. He earned his bachelor’s degree in industrial education from Western Illinois University, his master’s degree in school administration and advanced vocational technical education from the University Of Illinois and his advanced certificate in school administration and guidance counseling from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
He married his wife, Ardythe, in 1951 and they both began working in the Alton school district that year. They remained there until their retirement in 1988. Browning eventually oversaw the Adult Education program at the high school and organized apprentice programs for crafts and trades. He saw the program grow from 400 students to 2,600 during his tenure. His wife became director of the school food service, overseeing 20 cafeterias and 10,000 meals per day. They live in Godfrey and have a daughter who teaches in the Alton school system.
Browning said he felt it was important to acknowledge people who helped him over the years. He said Ray Wiedle was key in coordinating his participation in the World War II honor flight. He noted Ed Barnes from the Veterans Administration office helps veterans immensely. He also identified Pam Becker and Julie Miles as doctors who have helped him immeasurably with hearing problems resulting from his combat experience.
For those raised in the years since the end of World War II, it is impossible to fully understand the courage and sacrifice of the veterans of that war. Dean Browning is a great hero who exemplifies the characteristics of the soldiers who have preserved our way of life for so many years.