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updated: 10/14/2010 12:26 PM

Families, veterans gather at WWII reunion

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Have you ever wondered why the "first times in your life create exceptional memories, likely emblazoned in your mind forever? Yet, repeat events become blurred?

My first dog, first haircut, first day of school, first Halloween costume, first job interview, first time voting, first family getaway to see the changing fall colors during Columbus Day Weekend, first day in Naperville, first Daily Herald column in May 1999 the list goes on and on. I remember each event with precise detail.

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Whether 50 years ago or yesterday, for me, every first time experience comes with vivid recollection of the weather, my attitude, my attire, my encounters, my feelings and many other first impressions.

I suppose all that's why I enjoy being a writer.

I thrive on every new day that comes with a priceless choice of opportunities to experience for the first time, meeting new people, discovering new things, most times creating excitement for curious me, accompanied by wonder and anticipation.

A recent October weekend was filled with a set of such indelible first-time experiences.

My friend Paul Junkroski Sr., and his family hosted the annual 672nd Amphibian Tractor Battalion Reunion at the Naperville Holiday Inn Select.

A World War II veteran, Junkroski served in the battalion responsible for one of the most notable civilian rescues in history. On Feb. 23, 1945, they liberated 2,147 internees from the Los Banos Japanese Internment Camp in the Philippines.

The weekend in Naperville provided a chance for five members of the battalion, their families and friends to share that common bond that dates to 1945, enhanced by reunions that began in 1965 in Springfield. Ever since, the reunions have rotated, always hosted by a different soldier in his hometown and most often back East.

This year's reunion included photos and history displays, live entertainment by Joe Cantafio and a barbershop quartet from the Chorus of DuPage, a visit to Cantigny Park in Wheaton and a banquet.

The battalion also held its annual meeting where members elected to hold its 2011 reunion in Sharon, Pa.

The reunion gave me a chance to take dozens of photos, recording their time in Naperville and at Cantigny. I listened and learned how these brave men saved lives in our world with their service and sacrifices.

Mostly, however, I was impressed that everyone came to this year's reunion to catch up and show their appreciation.

The veterans and their families wanted to see old friends. Folks who had missed a few reunions said they planned to attend as many future reunions as possible.

I was reminded that roughly 16 million men and women served in the U.S. military during World War II and this battalion was just one of the forces that served overseas. Today their numbers are down to a precious few in the 672nd. I was honored to meet these forgiving, loving and generous men who served their country to free others.

Forgotten Victory

For the first time, the Naperville-based Korean War and Cold War Era Ceremony Committee will honor area veterans who served in the Korean War and Cold War era, defined as June 1950 to January 1955.

The tribute titled "America's Forgotten Victory is planned from 2 to 3:30 p.m. this Sunday, Oct. 17, in the Naperville North High School auditorium, 899 N. Mill St.

The Naperville Municipal Band Big Band will perform. Naperville North High School students and other officials will be contributing to ensure a memorable experience for all.

On Monday, organizer Wayne Fischer said 80 veterans already had agreed to attend. By Sunday, he anticipates 100 veterans and their families will be at the ceremony.

"We'll be honoring every veteran with a certificate and a custom commemorative pin, a handsome 1-inch round pin with an American flag in the center surrounded by four military ribbons, Fischer added.

The public is invited.

Families and veterans who served in the Korean War and Cold War era still are welcome to reply at korea.coldwar@gmail.com.

For information about the ceremony, contact Fischer at (630) 240-8868 or wayne.L.fischer@gmail.com.

And for everyone who attends Sunday's tribute to America's Forgotten Victory, it'll be a first-time event to remember.

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