Suburban heroes of World War II and the Korean War were celebrated in Gilberts on Sunday with a mix of pride, humor and solemnity,
The True Patriots Care Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Elgin, hosted Sunday's event, which fell on the national "Spirit of '45 Day." Area veterans were invited to enjoy live music, food and speeches that paid tribute to those who fought for their country in the 1940s and 1950s.
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"We have to keep remembering," said Jerry Christopherson, president of the True Patriots Care Foundation. "We lose World War II veterans every single day. There just won't be many more chances to express our thanks."
Christopherson, who served in the U.S. Army in the 1960s, echoes television journalist Tom Brokaw when he talks about the soldiers who fought during World War II.
"They really were 'the greatest generation,'" he said, repeating the phrase Brokaw coined in his book about the era. "Not only did they save the world on the battlefield, but then they came home and helped rebuild the country after the Depression. We all owe such a huge debt to them.
"And we're including the veterans of Korea today because that really is the forgotten war. They need to hear our thanks, too."
Sunday's event took place under sunny skies in Town Square Park, next to a display of American flags that honors the 324 Illinois soldiers who have died serving their country since Sept. 11, 2001.
The opening ceremony included a presentation of a U.S. flag to Huntley resident Donald Mickelsen, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. Mickelsen said he served on three Pacific islands during the war -- Guam, Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal.
"It means a lot to be here today," he said. "People really do want to remember what we did."
Mickelsen's daughter, Huntley resident Sandra Royer, said her family was "very, very proud" to see her father honored on Sunday.
"He has always been such a great example of courage and patriotism," she said. "And I really hope these kinds of events help the younger generations understand the sacrifices that our veterans have made."
The celebration in Gilberts also included live music from the Legacy Girls -- a trio that pays tribute to legendary singing group the Andrews Sisters -- and the Ladies Must Swing Orchestra. A LifeSource blood drive was held throughout the day as well.
Spirit of '45 Day was created by congressional resolution in 2010. It falls each year on the second Sunday in August, and it honors the everyday heroes of World War II.