A Cut Above the Rest
Oak Lawn Patch
November 12, 2010
By Lorraine Swanson
Ed Stachyra was shot down in a B-17 and spent his 21st birthday in the notorious Stalag Luft 1 prison camp.
James John Maniatis served with the 4th Marine Division and seemed to pop up everywhere history was being made — the Marshall Islands, Saipan, Guam, Tinian and Iwo Jima.
Carl Unger was an Army helicopter pilot for a M.A.S.H. unit in Korea.
Ross Rocco, who landed with the 38th Infantry Regiment on Omaha Beach, survived D-Day, but his brother didn't. His brother is buried 20 feet away from his friend Bob Wilcox's brother-in-law in France. Bob landed in Normandy a week later with the 313th Infantry Regiment.
Mr. Siffling, a social studies teacher at Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School, received a less than stellar welcome when he came home from Vietnam.
Across Oak Lawn on Thursday, schoolchildren, their parents and politicians celebrated Veterans Day, honoring veterans including Ed, Carl, Ross, Bob and Mr. Siffling.
And on a day that belied the rapidly approaching winter — it was the warmest November 11 in more than 40 years — it was hard to believe that the United States has been at war for the last nine years.
Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School observed the day with its first-ever Veterans Day Assembly. Boy Scout Troop 682 and the Richards High School ROTC presented the colors. The school's concert chorus sang patriotic songs and the concert band played a jaunty "Marches of the Armed Forces."
Neighborhood veterans stood up when their branch of the Armed Forces was called as students and teachers applauded wildly.
SSG Joseph Merryweather, who has been deployed for two tours of Iraq with the Army Reserve, fielded written questions submitted by a Spanish class taught by his wife, Sarah: "How long did it take to get to Kuwait?" "What was it like being away from your family during the holidays?" "Did you have a hard time getting used to cold when you came back?"
"I always think of veterans as older gentleman, but today I see a lot of younger people," said Merryweather, looking across a sea of folding chairs where younger servicemen and servicewomen stood with older vets from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
OLHMS teacher Ed Siffling spoke of enlisting in the Air Force to avoid the inevitability of being drafted into the Army during Vietnam.
"I'm glad to see that all of you here are honoring veterans," Siffling said. "When I cam home and visited friends, they were all, 'Oh, you're back.' I realized how smart my dad had become. He was a genius."
At the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month, members of the Johnson-Phelps VFW Post 5220 orchestrated their annual Veterans Day ceremony at the village war memorial behind the Oak Lawn Public Library.
U.S. Representative Dan Lipinski (D-3rd), Mayor Dave Heilmann, Trustee Jerry Hurckes and Village Clerk Jane Quinlan all recalled their fathers who had answered the call to an audience of veterans young and old from the area's various veterans organizations.
There were heart-wrenching volleys of gunfire and the mournful recording of a bugler playing Taps washing across the names of fallen veterans etched on the honor roll of Oak Lawn's War Memorial, and big-eyed children from St. Gerald's School who came to watch the morning ceremony.
Richard Luemen, commander of VFW Post 5220 and a Vietnam-era veteran, said he didn't experience the spitting and accusations of being a "baby killer" the way other returning Vietnam vets did.
"I served early in the war," Lueman said. "That stuff happened later to Vietnam vets when the protesting started around the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968."
Luemen's mother was in the Marine Corps and his dad served in the Army during World War II. He said he enlisted in the army during Vietnam "for the flag and the country."
"We fought for each other so fellow vets could go home," Luemen said.
He believes that Veterans Day has regained greater significance in recent years because of Operation Desert Storm and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Finally, the liberals are realizing it's not the soldiers' decision to go there but the politcians'," Luemen said.
Back at the Johnson-Phelps VFW Post for coffee after the morning's ceremony, fellow veteran and post member Joe Station, the newly named state commander of the VFW, was headed to the post's bar.
"I'm going to go hoist a few in honor of my fellow veterans," Station said, waiting a beat. "In military fashion, of course."
"Are you coming, Ed?," he called to Ed Stachyra, the former B-17 navigator who celebrated his 21st birthday in a German POW camp.
"I'm over Germany right now," Ed said.
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