At Buffalo Grove senior facility on Veterans Day, new portraits of American heroes

It was standing room only Friday at Belmont Village Senior Living in Buffalo Grove for the unveiling of the newest additions to the facility's "American Heroes: Portraits of Service" exhibition showcasing veterans.

Among them was Leonard Casper, a former drummer sporting a burgundy beret. He served in Germany during World War II and played with the U.S. Army's jazz band.

"I can't believe that's me," the 93-year-old said of his photograph, one of six unveiled Friday. "It's a wonderful feeling that after all these years, someone will recognize me."

Casper's portrait now hangs alongside those of Phil Horwitz, Carl Grillo, Mike Molloy, George Economos and the late Warren Anderson. The portraits were taken several months ago by photographer Thomas Sanders, who has been photographing Belmont Village veterans at facilities nationwide since the "American Heroes" exhibition was commissioned in 2008.

The archive, with 1,017 photographs, continues to grow, said Patricia Will, Belmont Village founder and CEO. "We continue to have extraordinary residents with extraordinary stories," she said.

Portraits also hang in Belmont Village facilities in Carol Stream, Glenview, Chicago and Oak Park, where servicemen and women from World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars reside. The Buffalo Grove facility currently has nine residents who are veterans, Executive Director Brian Adelman said.

"There's a pride of service and a pride of country," he said. "It's important to recognize those who served and sacrificed."

A permanent "American Heroes: Portraits of Service" exhibition was unveiled last week at Midway International Airport in Chicago. Casper and Horwitz, 92, attended the ceremony.

Horwitz, who enlisted during the second World War and served during the Korean War, recalled a training operation when the howitzer he and his fellow soldiers loaded didn't fire.

"It scared the daylights out of me," he said.

Reaching into his wallet, he pulled out a pristine, black-and-white photograph of a young nurse with dark, wavy hair who took care of him after an injury to his eyes.

"I fell in love with her voice," he said.

The nurse eventually became his wife.

Not all the residents who served are eager to share their stories, according to Will. Many World War II and Korean War veterans captured in the exhibition had never shared their stories until Sanders photographed them.

"They are a reservoir of history and honorable service," Will said. "We were able to tap what otherwise would have been forgotten over time."

Photographing Vietnam veterans has been particularly touching and important, Will said.

"That's the first conflict where (veterans) came home and were reviled," she said. "They didn't choose the war. They didn't choose the issues. They sacrificed a lot."

Honoring servicemen and women is "something everyone can rally around," Will said. "Look at these photos. Look at these stories. Look at these great men and women and see what extraordinary people they are."

  Belmont Village Senior Living resident Phil Horwitz, a corporal in the U.S. National Guard from 1948 to 1951, sits beneath his photograph unveiled Friday as one of six additions to the senior living community's "American Heroes: Portraits of Service" exhibition. Horwitz shares a picture of his younger self with Krista Nordlund, Belmont Village director of memory care and activities. Brian Hill/
  Private Care Manager Pam Weiss talks with Carl Grillo, who served as a fireman second class in the U.S. Navy, Friday during the unveiling of the "American Heroes: Portraits of Service" exhibition at Belmont Village Senior Living in Buffalo Grove. Brian Hill/
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