Some long overdue honors were presented Monday to Northwest suburban veterans -- along with a reminder to thank them every day -- at the Buffalo Grove Park District's annual Veterans Day Celebration.
The centerpiece of this year's ceremony at Buffalo Grove High School was U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk's presentation of four medals earned during World War II to retired Navy Radio Technician 2nd Class George Boesen of Arlington Heights.
Sixty-seven years after leaving the Navy, Boesen received the World War II Victory Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal and the China Service Medal.
"It's not often you see one of these China Service Medals because we don't serve in China anymore," Kirk said.
In presenting the four medals, Kirk told Boesen they'd been earned "when you saved civilization."
Boesen enlisted at age 17 in 1944 and later joined the Sixth Marine Division that was to have invaded Japan. But after Japan's surrender, Boesen's unit went instead to Tsingtao, China, in October 1945, where it assisted in the evacuation of Chinese nationalists to Taiwan as communist forces advanced.
Boesen said he learned he'd be receiving the medals only a week ago, barely time to get his head around the idea of sharing a stage with Kirk.
"It was interesting to look forward to," Boesen said. "My daughter had spent the last two years trying to get the medals for me, and she finally went to Sen. Kirk's office."
Also recognized during the ceremony was Buffalo Grove resident Al Kamikow, whose knighting by the French last week closely coincided with his 90th birthday. Kamikow had fought in the Battle of Normandy, for which he'd already received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. But the Knight of the Legion of Honor Medal, created by Napoleon, is the highest honor France can bestow.
U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider was among the other elected officials who paid honor to the veterans at the event. He told the students who came to the ceremony that the veterans they will encounter in their lives will be the best teachers of character, discipline, perseverance, honesty and integrity they're likely to meet.
"There's a need not just to say thank you, but to hear their stories," Schneider said. "I am inspired every day by the service and dedication of our veterans."
Army Col. Tom Cogdall said it's important to remember the voices of those who died in service and the responsibility their sacrifices place upon the living.
Cogdall said people can die twice -- once when they stop breathing and again when their names are spoken for the last time. He said the living must keep the memory of veterans alive, just as those soldiers died for people they would never know.
Buffalo Grove Park District Commissioner Larry Reiner, said the district has been dedicated to veterans since the Gulf War in the early 1990s. At that time, the district started programs making it easier for family members of those serving overseas to stay engaged in the community.
Among these are the Rusty Reiner Veteran Memorial Fund named for his own cousin, commemorative bricks in Veterans Park and the Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies program, which allows injured veterans to complete their rehabilitation at the park district's fitness center.