Southland Remembers Nation's War Dead
From a crowded VFW hall in Oak Lawn to a sunny ceremony in Orland Park, Memorial Day was observed in a somber and reverent style Monday throughout the Southland.
Rain forced Oak Lawn to move its observation from the veterans memorial near the public library to inside the Johnson-Phelps VFW Post 5220, where a standing room-only crowd of about 300 heard why Memorial Day is more about honoring our nation's war dead and less about cookouts.
"We are winging it, but that's what soldiers do. We adapt, improvise and overcome," Richard Leumen, events coordinator for the post, said of the sudden change of plans.
Christina Finn of Oak Lawn, the state's ladies' auxiliary president for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, said the rain served as a reminder.
"I think the rain is symbolic of the tears that are shed on Memorial Day, and I want to remind everyone today is a solemn day. It's not 'Happy Memorial Day.' I ask that we have a profound Memorial Day," Finn said.
Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski and representatives of various veterans groups spoke about the day's importance.
Bury was impressed at seeing so many children, "because memories will carry this forward to the next generation."
"Our freedom isn't free. Memorial Day honors those who paid for our freedom and our liberty with their lives. We are truly grateful for their sacrifice," Bury said. "Apathy, indifference, complacency are the nails in the coffin of our freedom. Care, concern and action honor the sacrifice of our fallen heroes."
Lipinski shared parts of the Gettysburg Address, stressing that the focus in the Civil War-era speech about keeping our nation whole still rings true today.
"On Memorial Day, we remember all those who died fighting for us and for our nation, which, today, is still the shining beacon on the hill of freedom for all those around the world. The best way for us to remember those who have died and those who have fought … it's up to all of us to rededicate ourselves to maintaining this great nation," Lipinski said.
At the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, sudden, short downpours did not stop thousands from gathering to hear Gov. Bruce Rauner and others share messages of gratitude.
"Today we pay tribute to our fallen heroes," Rauner said, thanking all veterans and service members. Moments before, the governor had stepped off the stage to pick up a flag blown over by the wind.
"We ain't training if it ain't raining," said U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran.
Duckworth's tone turned serious as she told veterans they have a "second chance to do more."
"Today is a hard day for those of us who have seen combat," said Duckworth, who lost both her legs during her service.
Duckworth said the day is about "honoring our heroic fallen" and living up to their sacrifice. Many veterans are unemployed and are not getting enough medical care, she said.
"We are all dishonored when that happens," she said. "We can and we must do more."
As she spoke, a World War II torpedo bomber, a TBM Avenger, passed overhead flown by aviator Tom Buck.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, speakers, including U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, shared personal stories. Foster remembered the day he turned 16 and his father took him to register for the draft.
"I remember pictures of coffins draped in American flags," he said.
U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger said that when he came home from the Air Force having served in Iraq and Afghanistan, people were lined up to welcome home returning military.
"You didn't have that," he said to Vietnam veterans.
"Others have come home who are still fighting battles in their minds," said Memorial Squad member and Vietnam veteran Dennis Mitzner during his invocation. "We pray these people find special comfort in our special service today."
In a separate ceremony, in the Lincoln National Cemetery garden, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community were recognized for their military service with the dedication of a monument.
Lee Reinhart, who served in the Navy for nine years, said the country has come a long way since the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gays in the military. After serving four years, he joined the Coast Guard but was discharged after four months because he is gay. After "don't ask, don't tell" was repealed, he rejoined the Navy, where he served openly.
"We've made a lot of progress," Reinhart said.
"A recognition of our fallen LGBT service members is long overdue," said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin in a statement. "This monument serves as a testament to those members of our military who have shown devotion to their country in the eyes of discrimination. It is in their memory that we move toward a more just and equal future."
In Orland Park, the rain stopped moments before a ceremony began. Twelve names were added to a monument at the Veterans Memorial just south of the village hall. Those honored served in World War II, Korea or Vietnam.
Mayor Dan McLaughlin said pausing every May to honor the dead "is the right thing to do."
"It's the best way to teach our children about sacrifice and what it means to earn our freedom," McLaughlin said.
He urged Vietnam veterans to ride on or walk with a float dedicated to them in the Orland Days parade Sunday.
One of those honored, James Rizzo of Orland Park, said he was in the Army Air Force in 1943. After serving stateside, he recalled being detained five weeks in Oakland, Calif., en route to Japan.
"Then we heard that Truman dropped the bomb. The war was over," Rizzo, 88, said.
The war may have ended, but his service did not. He eventually made it to Japan as a member of the American occupation forces, he said. A welder, he wound up working as a cook, helping prepare 80 turkeys for soldiers on Christmas Eve.
Being with the occupation forces in the enemy's homeland never was troublesome, he said.
"We never had a problem with the Japanese. Not one. They were so beaten," he said.
He said seeing his name on the monument Monday made him think that "it's nice to be known." His thoughts also were on friends who never made it home.
Also honored was Joseph Carvelli of Burbank, who said he was with the Army in Vietnam from 1966 to 1968. Monday's honor brought tears to his eyes, quite a difference from when he came home.
"The first 25 years, I didn't tell people I was in Vietnam. People asked where I got such a good tan. I said I had been in Florida. I came back in 1968, and some people called us baby killers, all that (garbage)," Carvelli, 70, said, "but now I'm really involved helping other vets."
He serves as a chaplain at several posts.
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