Longtime Hoffman Estates resident John Kmetz regularly told his daughter, Cheryl Kmetz, to just do "whatever it takes."
For her, he epitomized "the Marines commitment that you don't ever walk away" in every aspect of his life, from his dedication to family and friends, to his faithfulness to his church and community.
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Kmetz died Jan. 8 from multiple health complications, shortly after winning a fight against bladder cancer. Family and friends will gather today to celebrate his life on what would have been his 89th birthday. They'll gather at 3 p.m. at VFW Post 5151, 520 S. Bartlett Road in Streamwood.
Born in Nanticoke, Pa., Kmetz enlisted in the Marines in January 1943 and served in the South Pacific until late 1944, when he was wounded during the Battle of Peleliu. He was mistaken for dead and put in a body bag, his daughter said, adding with a laugh that it was a story fitting for him.
"Dad loved laughter," she said. "He had a smile for everyone and he never met a stranger."
Years later, Cheryl and her mom, June Hope, -- who was married to Kmetz for 68 years -- discovered that Kmetz was the recipient of three Purple Hearts. He accepted only one, 50 years after the war, because of his belief that the award should be presented posthumously only.
After his time abroad, Kmetz returned to the mainland and served as a drill instructor to FBI agents at the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia.
In the late 1940s, he joined his wife in West Virginia, where she was working as a nurse in the Appalachian Mountains. There he advocated for the rights of mine workers while studying electrical engineering, helping to create the United Mine Workers Union at Island Creek Coal Co.
Upon taking a job for the Link Belt Co. in Chicago, Kmetz moved his family to Hoffman Estates in 1959, where he helped determine the borders of the village. As a commissioner on the industrial inducement committee, Kmetz urged farmers to incorporate into the village. Cheryl remembers him driving her through the farmland and showing her how far Hoffman Estates stretched.
Kmetz went on to work as a senior electrical engineer for Roberts & Schaeffer Cos. He served as a deacon at both the Bethel Baptist Church of Schaumburg and the Parkview Community Church in Glen Ellyn and became actively involved with the Hoffman Estates Veterans Memorial Commission.
Commission Chairman Les Montag said Kmetz was at the village's flag ceremony every Sunday, rain or shine, snow or sleet.
"He was a very giving person; he was very dedicated," Montag said, adding that Kmetz particularly enjoyed his role as chaplain for the VFW and the American Legion.
Cheryl said her father always kept his deceased comrades close to his heart.
"He had a lot of guilt about the fact he survived," she said. "On the ship coming home -- and this really set the pace for his life -- the chaplain told him, get a picture of every single of one of your buddies, put it on a card and make sure that their lives are not lost in vain."
She said her dad carried a smaller version of that card in his wallet everywhere he went.
Since her father's death, Cheryl said she has received condolences from adults who remember having Kmetz as their Sunday school teacher in the 1960s and from local politicians, including Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth and state Sen. Dan Kotowski.
Kmetz was preceded in death by his wife, his son John, his brother and his three sisters. He is survived by Cheryl and her two children: Jackson, who just finished six years of service in the Army, and June, who recently set aside time from pursuing her master's degree to care for Kmetz.