Local veterans groups host a ceremony of reflection and remembrance at 10:30 a.m. Memorial Day, Monday, May 30, at Fountain Square, Sherman Avenue and Davis Street. But as the community stops to remember the men and women who have served our country and made the ultimate sacrifice, the Roundtable stopped in to visit American Legion Post 42 and ask the veterans about how to support these groups and their work in the community on other days of the year.

The flier for the group’s last event reads: “American Legion Post 42 Evanston wants to know: Are you a veteran? Are you a family of veterans? Are you part of a community in which you have veterans?”

Staff Sergeant Michael Wojciechowski, who retired from the U.S. Army, can say ‘yes’ to all three questions. Wojciechowski served four years in the U.S. Army and 17 years in the Army National Guard.

Wojciechowski service includes four years in the U.S. Navy and 17 years in the Army National Guard. He told the RoundTable his two most memorable events during his services were:

“I was onboard the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy,” he said, when it collided with the guided missile cruiser, the USS Belknap. But he also remembers, “leaving the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower … [and] hearing my name broadcast over the PA system as I was leaving the shop permanently, “YN3 Wojciechowski, Plankowner, departing.”

But he is hoping there are other veterans out there who can not only share memories with him but would like to join the American Legion Post 42, where he serves as Public Relations officer.

Wojciechowski comes from a family of veterans. His father and his uncle, who were twins, also served together in World War II.

Sgt. Mike Wojciechowski’s father and uncle, who were twins, served in World War II. Credit: Supplied

“They were allowed to serve in the same unit, which was a non-combatant unit,” said Wojciechowski, pointing to an early 1940s sepia photo of his father and his uncle, featured in a display from the last year’s American Legion Post 42 Golf Outing.

He brought these two veterans into today and honored both his father and uncle by donating money to sponsor a hole at the golf outing, where all the money goes back to helping support the veterans.

Wojciechowski credited Legionnaire Dan Bogojevich as the man who suggested the sponsorship opportunities. “We thought, because we’re a veteran-based golf outing … it would be nice to let friends or family of those who have served previously honor them. Along with making a sign with their name and the period of time they served, we also posted a flag at every one of those signs, as a tribute to their service,” said Bogojevich.

Legionnaire Joe Jefferson, who has 38 years of military service, is an active member of two Evanston-based Posts: American Legion Post 42 and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Technical Sergeant William B. Snell Post 7186.

“There are several of us that are dual members, and [VFW Post 7186 Commander] Charles Spivey is one of them,” said Jefferson.

“It is the sense of comradeship, and looking at the growth of the service… When I was in, it was primarily males in infantry units… I was a warrant officer, and now I know a number of female warrants. We have female generals…

Pictured here (from left) are the Post 42 Officers: Joe Jefferson, Dan Bogojevic, Gerry Romme, Commander Will Candelario and Mike Wojciechowski Credit: Heidi Randhava

“I was in combat three different times, and I can tell you there has been a significant shift in terms of participation – and we’re talking about volunteers. It’s a different meaning now than it was when we had a draft in the Vietnam era,” said Jefferson.

He said advanced technology has also brought major changes to the military. Yet there are some constants, despite the many shifts that have taken place over time.

Jefferson told the RoundTable: “The dedication is there. Through all my years, I still see that commitment in folks – that sense of country…

“One of the challenges we face today is… not realizing the sacrifices that [veterans] have experienced… When I look at the conditions that many veterans had to work under… particularly the Vietnam veterans… They were drafted – or made the decision to serve – and leave their country.  Then to come back, and not necessarily be treated or welcomed very well, made it difficult.”

Although there is an American Legion Post “only 1 mile away” from his residence in Chicago, Jefferson said, “I actually come here because of the activity of this organization. [Members] are so active, doing things to fulfill the pillars as far as the Legion is concerned… That’s why I come this far to do those types of things… It’s just been a pleasure meeting and working with these people. said Jefferson.

Sgt. Michael Wojciechowski points to a display from last year’s American Legion Post 42 Golf Outing. Credit: Heidi Randhava

“Right now, we’re planning all our different events. I’m the person who will be running the picnic this year, on Sunday, Aug. 14. I’m looking forward to that. We are trying to get all the organizations that we work with – [Hillside] Pantry, local Veterans Assistance organizations, Police and Fire Departments, schools, some of the other reserve units – to get folks out. The whole thing is really about activities… We want to make sure the kids get a chance to come out, play games – and to get a chance to see some of what these [veterans] are about…

“We’re wearing masks again, but hopefully as things change through the pandemic, we’ll have even more opportunities to interact with people,” he added.

Sgt. Wojciechowski said he hopes American Legion Post 42 will be back to hosting one event each month.

“On Tuesday, June 14 – which is Flag Day – all the flags that are tattered and worn, we are going to burn in a ceremony. There are currently three boxes of flags needing disposal. We have invited residents and military families to bring their flags for disposal as well.

“Also, this summer, we have Fourth of July celebrations,” said Sgt. Wojciechowski. But you can catch this whole crew at Fountain Square Monday, May 30, and maybe say, thank you.

Heidi Randhava

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.

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