POW memorial moves to O'Hare tollway oasis
Frank DeLoncker Jr. knew his father-in-law as a quiet man who tended to keep to himself.
Clyde Garnhart never talked about his 16 months in captivity at the end of World War II.
An Army veteran himself, DeLoncker decided to dig around for tidbits about Garnhart's missions in the Army Air Corps. What the Elgin man uncovered painted Garnhart as a selfless man who came to the aid of injured soldiers.
"He was a true American," DeLoncker said.
DeLoncker joined Illinois tollway leaders and members of Des Plaines American Legion and VFW chapters in a solemn ceremony Thursday to mark the new home for a memorial honoring 18 local servicemen who were reported missing in action during Vietnam, as well as Garnhart, listed MIA during World War II.
The memorial was uprooted with the closing of the Des Plaines tollway oasis and now sits in a small plot of flowers on the south side of the O'Hare oasis off I-294 in Schiller Park. Just a few steps away is a new granite monument saluting service members from all eras.
"With the nostalgia that went with the Des Plaines oasis, we also have a new beginning here," tollway board Chairwoman Paula Wolff said.
Crews began tearing down the Des Plaines oasis pavilion over the Jane Addams Tollway earlier this month. The structure, the state agency says, has to be razed to make room for the widening of I-90 and the extension of the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway.
"We heard from lots of people who had their first date at the Des Plaines oasis, got engaged at the Des Plaines oasis, goodness knows what else happened at the Des Plaines oasis," Wolff said. "But we do know that one of the things that was there that we did not want to have lost in the debris was the memorial plaque that we're going to unveil and install here today."
Two honor guards ushered in an intimate ceremony that closed with a bugle performance of taps.
DeLoncker admired the new stone memorial.
"It's very striking with the POW logo on there and honoring all servicemen," DeLoncker said. "It's well done. It stands out."
He reflected on his father-in-law's service before the gathering.
On one mission in March 1944, Garnhart, an Army Air Corps gunner, was flying over the English Channel when enemy fighters shot down the bomber. He plunged into the cold waters, giving up his seat on a life raft to an injured tail gunner, DeLoncker said.
Less than two weeks later, Garnhart parachuted out of a plane under attack, was captured and held as a prisoner of war until the end of World War II.
Garnhart eventually settled in Rockford and raised four daughters, including DeLoncker's wife, and three stepsons.
"He loved his country," a tearful DeLoncker said.