Arlington Heights Memorial Day parade was his legacy
Members of VFW Post 981 in Arlington Heights stood on Wednesday to give one of their longest serving members -- and a former commander -- a final salute.
Wallace Luettschwager was a lifelong Arlington Heights resident and last in a family of veterans, who had organized the Arlington Heights Memorial Day parade for decades. He died Monday at the age of 90.
"In organizing the Memorial Day parade for so many years, Wally and his brothers really built the patriotic heart of Arlington Heights," said Greg Padovani, chairman of the Veterans' Memorial Committee in Arlington Heights.
"His emphasis was that first and foremost we remember our fallen heroes, both in Arlington Heights and across the nation," Padovani added. "He taught us all how we should conduct ourselves on Memorial Day."
Luettschwager was the youngest of seven children, including three older brothers -- Harold, William and Carl -- who served in the Army during World War II and all returned home to become commanders at different times of the local VFW post.
Luettschwager himself, who earned the rank of corporal, served as an infantryman in the Korean conflict, including on the front lines carrying a Browning automatic rifle.
"He wanted to become a corporal, so that he could earn more money to send home to his mother," Padovani added. "That's the kind of guy he was."
Luettschwager reflected on his combat experience during a speech on Memorial Day in 2013, which marked the 60th anniversary of the end of the conflict. His remarks included great detail of some of the battles he saw and of the lukewarm reception when soldiers returned home.
"There were no parades or welcoming committees to greet Korean War veterans," Luettschwager said. "The government furnished me with transportation to Chicago, but I had to buy my own train ticket to Arlington Heights."
He returned in 1952 and joined Post 981, serving as commander from 1961-62. He helped his brothers to organize the Memorial Day parade. The three older Luettschwager brothers ran it for 30 years and Wally Luettschwager ran it for the next 25 before handing it over to Padovani.
Luettschwager also joined Padovani as a founding member of the Drive to Revive Memorial Park -- site of the annual Memorial Day ceremony -- which reopened in 2010 and unveiled an eternal flame one year later.
His name will be read this year -- the 100th anniversary of the parade and ceremony -- as part of an honor roll of veterans who died over the last year.
"Wally and his brothers brought Arlington Heights to focus on Memorial Day every year for more than 50 years," Padovani said. "His devotion to veterans -- and to our community -- was legendary."
Visitation will take place at 9:30 a.m. Monday before an 11:30 a.m. funeral service, both at St. Peter Lutheran Church, 111 W. Olive St. in Arlington Heights.