Grayslake says welcome home and thanks to veterans
A giant American flag hung from a ladder truck parked by the Grayslake Fire Station on Hawley Street Sunday.
Beneath its canopy passed a procession of veterans ranging from the Greatest Generation to the latest generation, as the village extended a huge welcome at a ceremony honoring their service.
The celebration, hosted by the Oasis Grayslake Youth Center, took place in three buildings: the fire station, the Heritage Center and at Oasis.
Grayslake Mayor Rhett Taylor and state Rep. Sandy Cole spoke, while music was provided by Voice of Veterans, the Grayslake Jazz Band and Svelte Bobby.
Children created crafts, and everyone enjoyed food.
The vast range of veterans in attendance was reflected by the signatures on a wall. They included 27-year veteran Frank White of Grayslake, who was a Chief Warrant Officer 5 in the Army.
"It's amazing to see the difference in appreciation (now), compared to my experience with the Vietnam War," he said.
White's wife, Karen, who served for 21 years in the Army, rising to the rank of Major, also put her name on the wall.
She is a little younger than her husband, adding that while he served in Vietnam, she was protesting the war.
Frank and Karen's son, Army Airborne Ranger 1st Lt. Trevor White, was in Iraq for eight months and came home on Christmas Eve. He is now serving in Fort Bragg, N.C.
"I told him it would be so cool (if he could attend), because you could almost feel like it was just for you," Karen White said.
Also at the ceremony were Purple Heart veteran Bob Ochsner of Beach Park and his wife, Sandy.
Ochsner received his Purple Heart while serving with special forces near Nha Trang. While providing more flares for his group, he was slammed with mortars. and his leg was pierced by shrapnel. He eventually recovered.
Ochsner's son, Robert L. Ochsner II, is an Army Command Sgt., and his grandson, Robert L. Ochsner III, just joined the Army.
Bob and Sandy Ochsner are also Gold Star parents. Their son, James Scott Ochsner, a Sgt. First Class in the Army, was killed in Afghanistan on Nov. 15, 2005.
"We will do anything to support this country," Bob Ochsner said. "Our family has shown it wants to protect the country and serve it as best we can. Our son died doing what he wanted to do. And we have done what we wanted to do."
Added Sandy: "We support the country and the freedoms. We had to sacrifice one of our sons. Hopefully, no more."
Visitors from the Greatest Generation included World War II vet Carl Kendall, who served on a tank destroyer in the Philippines. In the past two years, Kendall said there has been greater appreciation for veterans.
"All these years I have been here, and you never heard a word about nothing. Then in the last two years, they're finally realizing what they did," he said.
The oldest veteran in attendance was 90-year-old Mary Jane Lucas of Grayslake, who served at Fort Sheridan with the first contingent of women Army auxiliary corps that left Fort Des Moines in Iowa.
Her husband, Charles J. Lucas, Sr., passed away this year at age 88. Serving in World War II, he was taken prisoner at the Battle of the Bulge. Later receiving a Purple Heart for his service, he ultimately spent 35 years in the Army and Army Reserve, retiring with the rank of colonel.
Event organizer Joyce Campbell, who wore a patriotic sequined vest, said Sunday's ceremony was "wildly successful" but it will not become an annual event.
"If we do it again, it will be when we pull out of Afghanistan," she said. "When we come home from Afghanistan, I'll be happy to do it again."
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