Daily Herald staffers receive national American Legion award in Phoenix
Daily Herald coverage of a series of "unclaimed" veteran funerals in Elgin was honored Thursday at the American Legion's national convention in Phoenix.
The stories and visuals by senior writer Elena Ferrarin and senior multimedia journalist Rick West were awarded the 2021 Fourth Estate Award for outstanding achievement in the field of print journalism.
West represented the pair at the award ceremony attended by thousands of Legion members.
"It was an incredible honor just to be able to share the stories of these veterans who would have gone to their final rest alone were it not for the community that turned out to honor them," West said. "Winning this award is really just a reflection on the nature of the community that we serve."
The series began with a preview story by Ferrarin on the funeral for John James Murphy, a decorated Vietnam veteran who had no family when he died last year in an Elgin rehab center. After the story went viral and was picked up by other news outlets, hundreds turned out to the funeral at Symonds-Madison Funeral Home in Elgin.
On the day of the funeral, Ferrarin and West captured in words, photos and video the moving tributes of those who traveled from near and far to pay their respects to Murphy, 71, who was a jet engine mechanic in the U.S. Air Force from 1966 to 1969 and earned several awards, including the Vietnam Service Medal.
"As if this weren't enough, the Daily Herald repeated its fine reporting by telling the stories of other unclaimed veterans and achieved similar results for their funerals," The American Legion said when announcing the award.
"Both Elena and Rick understand the heartbeat of Elgin, so they didn't find the outpourings of support for these servicemen particularly surprising," Managing Editor Jim Baumann said. "It's heartening to know that others across the country got to know the Elgin spirit a little better today through the fine storytelling efforts of our journalists. Kudos to Elena and Rick, and our thanks to the American Legion for the honor."