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Judge: We honor our veterans by caring for them 

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

ELGIN — Keith Brown, chief judge of the 16th Judicial Circuit, has occasionally been asked by friends whether, if they invoke his name, they would be able to get out of jury duty.

He often tells juries that if millions of American service men and women can put their lives on the line in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else around the world to defend freedom, “the least we can do is serve on jury duty. The least we can do is vote,” Brown said Thursday at Elgin’s annual Veterans Day ceremony.

About 200 people attended the ceremony, held at the now-2-year-old Veterans Memorial, on the banks of the Fox River north of Gail Borden Public Library.

Although Brown never served in the military, it was an honor to give back to veterans by being asked to speak on the holiday, he said.

He also wanted to honor a war hero from the Fox Valley and found out about 2nd Lt. Walter E. Truemper, an Aurora native honored posthumously with a Medal of Honor. Truemper was an uncle to area attorney Bill Truemper, and Brown was able to speak to Walter’s sister, the last of 10 children in the family.

Truemper was on just his second mission with the U.S. Army Air Corps, 351st Bombardment group, assigned to attack German airplane manufacturing locations about 100 miles southwest of Berlin.

The squadron came under heavy fire, Brown said. The co-pilot was killed, and the pilot was knocked unconscious. The rest of the crew bailed out, but Truemper and engineer Sgt. Archibald Mathies refused to jump, attempting to land the plane and save the life of the pilot.

The two men, neither of them pilots, tried to land the plane twice. On the third try, with wheels up in an open field, they skidded on the plane’s belly. “It looked as though they had won their gamble. Then the plane hit an obstruction and disintegrated. There were no survivors,” according to the website, which tells the story and where Brown got some of his research.

Truemper was killed on Feb. 20, 1944, just three months after deploying to the European Theater.

“What does it take for a man or a woman to … save the life of another?” Brown asked. “How do we honor the volunteers, or the drafted in other wars past, who serve their country and put their lives on the line?”

He also pointed out some of the problems facing today’s veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, almost 1.2 million men and women.

They are coming home to find their military skills not fitting in with those needed now, Brown said. The unemployment rate for veterans is 14.7 percent, above the national rate of 9.6 percent.

“They are coming home with post-traumatic stress disorder and need medical and psychiatric care,” Brown said.

They are having a hard time getting to know children they haven’t seen in two years, he said, and the divorce rate for veterans is up, too.

What Americans can do, he added, is recognize veterans by attending events such as Thursday’s ceremony. They can help find or give returning veterans jobs, or just speak and listen to WWII veterans, who are fewer and fewer each day.

“They have a story that needs to be told,” Brown said.

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