Michael R. Schmidt~For Sun-Times Media American Legion Post 57 chaplin Richard Hamilton salutes the flag during the playing of the National Anthem during Elgin's celebration of Veteran's Day Sunday morning at Veterans Memorial Park in Elgin.
Updated: December 13, 2012 10:19AM
ELGIN — War is hell, and American soldiers don’t fight for war but for peace.
That was one of the overriding messages Sunday as more than 300 people attended Elgin’s annual Veterans Day ceremony, at its now-four-year-old Veterans Memorial downtown along the Fox River.
The day also marked the official groundbreaking for an expansion to that memorial, and honored some veterans in a new way.
Tricia Dieringer of American Legion Post 57 asked the Elgin High School Band, which has played at the Veterans Day event for the past several years, to add the Merchant Marines’ hymn “Heave Ho My Lads” to the medley of songs played to honor veterans.
Her father was a Merchant Marine during World War II, Dieringer said. Although their wartime efforts were not officially recognized until 1983 — three years after her father died — their efforts are memorialized at the park, along with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.
Merchant Marines, she said, helped patrol and move supplies while the U.S. Navy — decimated by the Pearl Harbor attack — rebuilt.
“For a four-year period, they were the real heroes” during the war, Dieringer said.
Sunday’s keynote speaker for the event was David Sam, president of Elgin Community College. As an immigrant and naturalized citizen, “I am a beneficiary or the rights … of being a U.S. citizen” that American soldiers have fought for, Sam said.
In addition to reading the remarks of past U.S. presidents on Veterans Day, Sam told some stories that were shared with him.
Those stories contained some colorful language, Sam said, adding that often is also the language of the soldier in a battlefield.
One story told of a makeshift latrine and some unfortunate shelling that sent its product back toward the soldiers.
Other stories included learning cultural differences — including differences in food, and the camaraderie of ROTC cadets just watching TV together.
Those stories came from his friend Bob Getz, an ECC trustee and two-tour Vietnam veteran, Sam said.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you” for his service, and that of other veterans, Sam said.
The second half of the service was the official groundbreaking for an expansion of the memorial to allow for a more dignified Memorial Day service, said Jerry Turnquist, a local historian and co-chairman of the Phase II committee.
On May 18, organizers for the Elgin Veterans Memorial Park Phase II Committee kicked off fundraising. They needed $64,000 to go forward with the project — a goal that was reached just a few days ago, Turnquist said.
The second phase — planned to get its own unveiling next spring — will extend the existing plaza 25 to 30 feet to the west, closer to the shore of the Fox River. The memorial is located just north of Gail Borden Public Library on North Grove Avenue.
The needed funds were raised in just six months — an effort Turnquist said he thought would be impossible.
Several local organizations, businesses and individuals donated large sums, he said.
Elinor Richoz, the widow of World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient of Arthur Richoz, made a large donation herself. She also was one of the biggest promoters of $5 pins the group sold to raise money, he said.