Wheaton honors sacrifice of recently killed soldier
This year's Memorial Day ceremony in Wheaton brought not only the traditional honoring of long-ago sacrifices, but a fresh reminder of how personal and painful those sacrifices are.
Especially honored among Wheaton's killed-in-action Monday was U.S. Army Spc. Samuel T. Watts, who died only nine days earlier from injuries he'd suffered from a roadside bomb in Afghanistan April 25.
During Monday's ceremony, a white cross bearing Watts' name was brought out by members of the local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts to join those of approximately three dozen other soldiers from the Wheaton area who have been killed in action since World War I.
Retired U.S. Army Major Steve Fixler spoke during the ceremony about how Watts was part of the proud tradition of the 82nd Airborne Division, which was formed in 1942 and parachuted troops into Normandy on D-Day during World War II.
"He fought for our country to keep it safe, and he served our country well," Fixler said of Watts.
After a wreath was laid, Watts was honored by a triple, rifle-shot salute from veterans -- the noise of which caused one child in the audience to suffer a nervous seizure.
Though speakers aimed to keep the ceremony short due to a baking hot sun, one Boy Scout bearing a flag fainted and had to be revived and treated by paramedics.
After the ceremony, tearful friends of Watts gathered to look upon and photograph his cross.
Watts will be buried at Wheaton Cemetery on Wednesday.
Watts' family members, who are preparing for his wake on Tuesday, did not attend the ceremony.
"They're just feeling overwhelmed," family friend Janet Lattmann of Wheaton said. "They can't bring themselves to handle this publicly yet."
Lattmann's son, Zachary, said he'd attended the same school as Watts, where his younger brother became best friends with Watts.
Though all who knew Watts have been devastated by the loss, Zachary Lattmann said his brother has been bearing up toughly, just as Watts himself did at his job serving his country in the military.
Monday's ceremony at the cemetery was preceded by Wheaton's annual Memorial Day Parade, which featured the community's veterans, public officials, scouts, school bands and representatives from the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans.