Meet the DuPage employee behind the website honoring fallen veterans
As a teen living near Wheaton's DuPage Care Center in the 1970s, Dave Roberts would visit the nursing facility to spend time with the military veterans who lived there.
"I was attracted to the stories," Roberts said.
His father, a Navy veteran who fought in World War II, didn't talk much about his military experiences. But Roberts says the veterans at the nursing home "always had so much to tell."
Decades later, the 62-year-old Naperville resident has helped preserve the stories of dozens of fallen veterans by coming up with the idea for DuPage County's memorial website.
The county had to cancel its in-person Memorial Day ceremony this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So Roberts, who works for DuPage's information technology department, proposed the website. County employees then developed the interactive site, which allows people to share memories and photographs of their friends or loved ones who served our country.
"It got started because of COVID-19," Roberts said. "But it's something we want to continue as an honor memorial."
Since the site went up in May, nearly 30 remembrances have been posted, including one for Roberts' dad, Richard Raymond Roberts. The elder Roberts served on the battleship USS Mississippi, which was part of the invasion fleet that attacked Okinawa, Japan. The ship was in Toyko Bay during the signing of Japan's surrender documents on Sept. 2, 1945.
Inspired by his father, Dave Roberts joined the Navy in 1976. He left the service in 1981 to help care for his dad.
Roberts said his dad eventually moved into the DuPage Care Center and lived there until his death in 1989.
After his father died, Roberts continued to attend annual Veterans Day ceremonies at the facility. He said the events are very important for veterans there.
So when he heard the county wasn't going to have a Memorial Day event, he said he wanted to do something to replace it.
He said county officials were receptive to the idea of having a memorial website.
"It wasn't a planned project," he said. "But it was a project that they thought was worth doing."
The website at dupageco.org/memorial includes an honor map showing where each veteran lived or died. There are also quotes, poems and videos, including one about the history of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Among the honor posts on the site are remembrances of Army Pfc. Gunnar Hotchkin and Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Kevin Grieco.
Hotchkin, 31, of Naperville, was killed June 16, 2010, in Afghanistan when a roadside bomb blast flipped over the armored tank he was riding in. Grieco, of Bartlett, was killed on Oct. 27, 2008 -- two days after his 35th birthday -- by a suicide bomber in Baghlan, Afghanistan.
Roberts said every honor post is unique.
"I feel the love and heart of each person that wrote it," Roberts said. "I think it's good for the person who creates an honor post to write about someone in the way they want them to be remembered."
County officials have said they want the site used even after in-person ceremonies resume. They've also said residents outside DuPage are welcome to leave an honor post.
"We just need to continue with this website and make it what it could still become," Roberts said. "Let's keep writing these stories."