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updated: 4/28/2014 9:38 AM

Exhibit details Glen Ellyn family's military service

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  • Glen Ellyn Historical Society's past president and curator, Ruth Wright, left, and Executive Director Jan Shupert-Arick prepare the Becker family's donation of military uniforms for exhibit on Memorial Day.

      Glen Ellyn Historical Society's past president and curator, Ruth Wright, left, and Executive Director Jan Shupert-Arick prepare the Becker family's donation of military uniforms for exhibit on Memorial Day.
    Courtesy of Jean Jeske

 
By Jean Jeske
For Glen Ellyn Historical Society

When Glen Ellyn resident William H. Becker died, his son, William S. Becker, inherited his father's World War II uniform and medals. That uniform hung in his closet, next to his own uniform from the Vietnam War.

"One day I realized that, should the Becker line continue and assuming each generation practiced good custodianship, the uniforms would be stored away in many closets to come, eventually turning to dust," he said.

This did not seem right to him. So, he and his sisters decided to donate the uniforms to the Glen Ellyn Historical Society. An exhibit of the uniforms will open on Memorial Day.

"It's impossible for anyone who has not been to war to understand its impact on a life," Becker said. "I see men and women returning today from Iraq and Afghanistan -- soldiers who have served multiple tours and multiple traumas. Sending them a message that those who served before them were able to reassimilate into the society for whom they fought and letting them know we understand is one dimension of what showing the uniforms means to me."

He added, "The other dimension is the 'we're from Glenbard, couldn't be prouder' connection. As I look back, it seems remarkable that in this highly mobile society, my father and I went to the same high school, Glenbard West. We even had the same Spanish teacher. We walked the same halls. Dad and I played on the same football field."

Becker's father was a guard named to the All-Star Football Team in 1941 and went on to play for the Fighting Illini. He left college to fight in World War II as a sergeant in the Army Air Corps in both the European and Asian theaters. After the war, legendary coach George Halas signed the senior Becker to play for his Akron Bears in the American Football League.

The younger Becker played fullback for the Hilltoppers Class of 1964. He, too, enrolled at the University of Illinois, then left to join the U.S. Army during wartime. He was a combat correspondent for the 25th Infantry Division and for the Stars and Stripes in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967. He won the Bronze Star Metal and the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross.

"I would not be surprised if there are other families whose Glenbard roots run even farther. I know for a fact that there are other Glenbard graduates whose sacrifices in war were far greater than my father's or mine. I was nearby when one of the other graduates of my high school class was killed in Vietnam," he said.

Glenbard graduates killed in Vietnam include: Marine Lt. John Bruce Capel, Army Specialist Ronald Ewald Hagstrom, Army Specialist John Fellows Scull Jr., Army Lt. Col. William Walter Dickey, Marine Capt. Robert Francis Morgan, Army PFC Thomas Benedict Duffy Jr. and Army Maj. Roger Lee Pierce. Each is commemorated on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.

The opening of the Becker family military exhibit at the Glen Ellyn History Center will be at 1 p.m. Monday, May 26, at 800 N. Main St., Glen Ellyn. Becker, his sisters and their families will be there for the opening. Call (630) 469-1867 for information.

Any other Glen Ellyn families who would like to share uniforms, memorabilia or stories of loved ones' service should call Jan Shupert-Arick, executive director of the Glen Ellyn Historical Society, at (630) 469-1867, ext. 101.

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