Lester: Native American vet fights for Medal of Honor at 91
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Loren "Duke" Abdalla is like many of the Greatest Generation, dutifully serving his country during World War II, then returning home and revealing very little about his heroism or the horrors he witnessed.
But Abdalla, a retired Marine from Fox Lake, had two reasons for silence about his role in the May 1945 Battle of Okinawa, where he carried a wounded member of his platoon to safety before returning to the front lines and taking out six enemy machine gun nests. It simply wasn't in his nature to brag, or even speak about war memories. Beyond that, he saw his Native American ancestry as an impediment to recognition.
"It was a different deal altogether then," said Abdalla, the great grandson of Chief Running Bull and member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe. "Indians were below the bottom rung" in the military.
Those close to him say that silence cost the 91-year-old, who has colon cancer, the Medal of Honor.
Wheels in motion
Abdalla, awarded a Purple Heart for his actions in the Battle of Peleliu, offhandedly mentioned his military record a few years ago to Waukegan attorney and fellow Marine veteran Rick Daniels.
"You should have received the Medal of Honor," Daniels told him, then later contacted the commandant of the Illinois Marine Corps League to put the wheels in motion. But military rules say two eyewitnesses must corroborate a story before a medal can be awarded. Abdalla's family has found one witness, but a second one is proving to be elusive because many of his fellow veterans have died.
U.S. Reps. Bob Dold, of Kenilworth, and Mike Quigley, of Chicago, have asked that President Obama authorize the award. U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, a retired naval reserve officer, sent an Aug. 25 letter to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus asking him to "evaluate the actions of Mr. Abdalla compared with other Marines who were awarded medals for similar acts of heroism during this battle."
The Republican State Senate Campaign Committee dropped $60,000 into Gurnee Republican Mike Amrozowicz' war chest last week. Amrozowicz is challenging Democratic state Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake in what is expected to be one of the most targeted races in the suburbs Nov. 8.
"Who's this Tim Schneider?" Democratic former Gov. Pat Quinn quipped last week after Schneider criticized Quinn for having hired downstate independent congressional candidate David Gill for a state job in 2013.
Schneider, of Bartlett, fired back: "Pat Quinn may not know who I am now, because he is trying hard to forget everything about his failed record as governor. As chairman of the Illinois Republican Party in 2014, I helped shed light on Quinn's record of mismanagement, scandal and corruption, and I won't let him rewrite history now."
Wheaton College was highlighted this week by Campus Pride, a nonprofit that listed the Christian college among 102 campuses it says are unfriendly to gay, lesbian and bisexual students. The Princeton Review has included the college on a similar list, along with ranking it high in religious students and low in alcohol and drug use on campus.
"Wheaton strives to treat all people with respect," college spokeswoman LaTonya Taylor said in a statement. Students and staff affirm a Community Covenant that Taylor describes as a "voluntary social compact" expressing "the commitments and values consistent with the community's shared Christian faith." The college, she says, is committed to chastity among the unmarried and the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman.
"Some perceive our commitment to this Christian sexual ethic as unfriendly toward the LGBTQ community. Our aim is to stand respectfully and graciously for God's truth."
Wishing you all a restful Labor Day and thanking you for keeping up with this column in its first year. It continues to be a joy to tell the stories behind your stories. If you have tips, comments or questions, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (847) 427-4603.