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The crowd gathered incrementally at Fountain Square on this Memorial Day, May 27. Singly, in families, by threes and fours, about 200 people came to Veterans’ Plaza at Fountain Square, some talking quietly, others looking around at the poppies on hats and jackets, the flags drifting in the cold breeze or the Northwestern ROTC lined up across the street, rifles in hand for a 21-gun salute.
Greg Lisinski of American Legion Post 42, who officiated, noted that World of Beer had removed its signs from the west wall of the building it occupies. Some felt that the signs took away from the solemnity of the stanchions that memorialize Evanstonians who served their country. He suggested that anyone who has a beer there thank the owner for that consideration.
Speeches by veterans and politicians were interspersed with patriotic music.
“Many things I love about Evanston,” said Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl. “This ceremony is definitely on my list,” when the community honors “those who served in the armed forces and those who died in the armed forces. … We did not get where we are by ourselves. Our past is with us. Each name inscribed behind me is a part of the community we have today. ”
David Davis of Jan Schakowsky’s office read a statement from the Congresswoman that said in part, “On Memorial Day, we remember and recognize the men and women who gave their lives in defense of our country. We celebrate the countless soldiers who answered the call of duty and fought around the world to protect our nation and our ideals. We remember those who died, those who are still overseas and our veterans and military families.
“By 2014, the war in Afghanistan will be coming to a close and most of our troops will be returning home. But the entire country shares the grief of the thousands of military families whose mothers or fathers, sisters or brothers, sons or daughters will not be returning home. We remember their sacrifice and are truly grateful for their service.”
Wreaths were placed at the base of the flagpole dedicated in 1951 by General Douglas MacArthur.
“Being part of a veterans’ ceremony has a special meaning when you’ve served with guys – in foxholes, at desks, in basic training. … When you go through something like that, you form a friendship that lasts,” said Hal Shanafield of Viet Now. He served in Berlin from 1967 to ’69 and remained in Europe until 1978, when he came to Evanston. His parents had moved here, but his high school and college friends were in Michigan, where he grew up. Getting to know other veterans, he said, made a difference. “Coming back and finding guys who had served in Vietnam, Korea, World War II – it was as if I’d discovered a new family. It completed the circle for me, as though my service had been recognized and validated in some way.”
Returning veterans were not always welcomed. Mr. Shanafield said African Americans who served their country in prior wars came back to find “that their country did not serve them well.” Brian Beatty, Chaplain of Snell Post, said he recalled his group of veterans stopping their float in one Fourth of July parade and inviting Vietnam-era veterans on board.
Veterans who spoke with the RoundTable after the Memorial Day service said they appreciated being recognized by their hometown.
Clifford Washington of Snell VFW Post 7186 said of those who died serving this country, “They possessed courage, pride, selflessness, dedication to duty and integrity. Nothing can replace the hole left behind by fallen service members.”
Henry Revis of American Legion Post 42 thanked those who attended for “coming out to honor our ones who did not make it back.”
In his prayer and reflection, Mr. Beatty said thanks “for those who guard the gates of freedom” and “for those who stand here now, who once stood in other places.”
Andrew Best, who served two tours of duty in Iraq said, “It’s always really nice to see veterans appreciated, as well as looking to those who gave their lives.”
Chaplain Beatty, who served in Panama, Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Kosovo and Iraqi Freedom, said he felt his service was a “good experience.” He said men and women go into the armed services for their country. “We don’t do it to get these honors.”
Lloyd Idelman, who served in Vienna in World War II, said services honoring veterans leave him “feeling good.” He was sent to Vienna, he said, because just after he enlisted, Germany fell, and “at the end of basic training, Japan surrendered.”
Emory Williams, another World War II veteran, said that the services left him with a “good feeling. World War II made you appreciate [freedom].
Bill Logan, (see page 11) a retired chief of police of Evanston who served during the Korean conflict, said services such as this Memorial Service bring back good memories. He said he “learned a lot” in the Army.
While most veterans said they appreciated the recognition of their service and many said the time had helped them learn and grow, some parents of veterans spent those years on edge.
A service such as this one “brings back Andrew’s time in the military,” said Robert Best, father of Andrew Best. “It’s much nicer to be with my son than when he was in Iraq. … But what [a day like this] reminds me is that, when he was in Iraq, I worried only about him. When he was home, I realized I had to worry about everyone else.
“The fact that he made it home safely isn’t a lot of consideration on a day like this, because there are not a lot like me who had a child come home.”
A flag planted in a patriotic container in memory of Matthew Freeman, one who did not come home from Afghanistan, was placed at the base of the flagpole. A bouquet of lilies of the valley was set there in memory of Stephen Castner by his aunt. He was killed in Iraq in 2006, said Mr. Lisinski.