Elgin candlelight vigil honors POWs, MIAs
By Denise Moran For The Courier-News September 21, 2013 2:28PM
Elgin resident Hector Ocampo, a veteran of the Iraq War, lights a candle during "The MIssing Man Table Ceremony" Friday, September 20, 2013 in downtown Elgin. | Denise Moran ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 23, 2013 6:50AM
ELGIN — More than 200 people gathered on Friday night at the Civic Center Plaza in downtown Elgin for a ceremony and candlelight vigil that honored prisoners of war and those missing in action.
More than 40 service men from the northern Illinois area that died in Vietnam were honored. They came from Algonquin, Batavia, Carpentersville, Cary, Crystal Lake, Elgin, Geneva, Gilberts, Hampshire, Hanover Park, Huntley, St. Charles, South Elgin, Streamwood and Wayne.
Friday night’s guest speaker, Michelle Single, has served in Germany, Bosnia, Iraq and Kuwait. She was medically separated from the U.S. Army as a captain in 2010 following injuries sustained in the Iraq War.
“Tonight we honor the brave men and women who served during the Vietnam War,” Single told the audience.
The guest singer on Friday was Gwendolyn Jones, a former lead vocalist at World of Faith Cathedral for 14 years.
The crowd gathered near The Wall That Heals, a half-scale replica of the original Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., that comprises more than 58,200 names of the military men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. The ceremony and candlelight vigil were sponsored by Chase Bank.
Illinois state Sen. Michael Noland, D-Elgin, who served in the U.S. Navy, shared his memories of growing up during the Vietnam War. He said that for most Americans, the war began in 1964 when the captain of the USS Maddox reported that his ship was fired upon by torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin.
“From age 4 to 14, war was an everyday part of my life,” Noland recalled. “Each night, my family would watch Walter Cronkite report on the number of dead and missing in action. My mom worried about what I saw on television. By 1974, it seemed like the war would never end. I started wondering if I would turn 18 and be drafted. My classmates wore bracelets with the names of POWs and MIAs. I carry the memories of the war and those names on the wall with me.”
Noland presented a medal on Friday evening to Norman Zuckerman of Algonquin. Zuckerman said he was once a prisoner of war who was held by the Germans during World War II.
Elgin resident Jim Zingales was one of the many volunteers who helped to keep a 24-hour watch over the wall while it was displayed in Elgin from Thursday to Sunday. Zingales said he served as a U.S. Army tank mechanic in Germany from 1962 to 1965. He is a member of Elgin Amvets Post 202.
“It’s awesome that so many people turned out for the vigil,” Zingales said. “I wish there weren’t so many names on the wall. It makes me both sad and angry to see the loss of so many young men.”
Hector Ocampo of Elgin also served as a U.S. Army tank mechanic. He is a veteran of the Iraq War.
“I am overwhelmed by the response of the community to this event,” Ocampo said. “I want everyone to visit the wall and pay their respects. I am honored that I took part in the ceremony.”
Ocampo lit a candle during the “Missing Man Table Ceremony” on Friday night. A table for one was set up to represent all the American military men and women, as well as civilians, who are still missing. The table was covered with a white tablecloth to represent purity, while a red rose symbolized the blood that was shed. A plate held a lemon to represent the bitter fate of the POWs and MIAs, while salt symbolized the tears of their loved ones. The lit candle represented the hope that the missing will one day be reunited with their families.
The Wall That Heals is one component of The Big Read in the northern Fox Valley, focusing on “The Things They Carried,” a Vietnam War memoir by Tim O’Brien. Programs and events related to the book slated through Nov. 11 include art exhibits, a film series, speaker series, The American Place Theatre’s Literature to Life performance of “The Things They Carried,” more than 25 book discussion groups, and a Lao oral history project.
The Big Read comprises more than 50 partners and almost 400 volunteers. Two photo exhibits, “Portraits of a Soldier” and “The Things I Carried,” were displayed at Gail Borden Library until Sept. 18. “Portraits of a Soldier” is now on display at Elgin Community College until Oct. 1. “The Things I Carried” traveled to the library’s Rakow Branch.
The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture. Along with the NEA, the program is funded by J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation in partnership with the Veterans Employee Business Resource Group in the Chase Operations Center in Elgin.