Veterans Day memorial ceremony draws crowd to Rotary Hill
By Hank Beckman For The Sun November 12, 2012 1:50PM
People gather near the Naperville Healing Field of Honor at Rotary Hill for a Veterans Day ceremony on Sunday, November 11, 2012. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 15, 2012 6:11AM
Threatening skies couldn’t keep a crowd of about 750 people from turning out for Naperville’s Veterans Day celebration Sunday at the Millennium Carillon. The ceremony took place amid 2,012 American flags adorning Rotary Hill.
The memorial’s focus this year was not just honoring our nation’s service personnel, but also the coming problem of treating personnel returning from the Middle East suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injury.
“We have a duty to honor them for their sacrifice and loss in defending our nation,” Dr. James Kelly, keynote speaker and director of the National Intrepid Center of Excellence told the crowd.
Kelly, a Chicago native who attended medical school at Northwestern University and served as the Chicago Bears neurologist, joked about being from the south side.
“This (Naperville) is like the other side of the world to me,” he said.
But he was dead serious when he talked about the effects of PTSD and TBI, reminding the crowd that almost 70,000 troops remain in combat operations in Afghanistan.
Kelly stressed that the enemy’s most effective weapon was the Improvised Explosive Device, or IED, as it is popularly known.
While many of the casualties suffered from IEDs resulted in death or amputation of limbs, other injuries were sometimes harder to detect.
“Our challenge will be to better identify and treat incidents of PTSD and TBI for those (wounded) whose effects are less obvious,” Kelly said.
The 2,012 American flags were courtesy of the Healing Fields of Honor Naperville 2012, the purpose of which is to raise money for Kelly’s research.
The exhibit was set up between Nov. 8 and Nov. 13, and was a chance for people to sponsor a flag for as little as $30 — $35 if a family member was to be memorialized.
Nina Petru, the first female commander of Judd Kendall VFW Post 3873, read the poem “In Flanders Field,” written by a medical officer in World War I about the death of his friend in combat.
Petru noted how the Flanders battlefield was left so scarred by the war that only poppies would grow on the field, leading to the poppy being recognized as a universal symbol of tribute to those in combat.
Veterans of all ages assembled at the foot of the Carillon to be honored by the Naperville Municipal Band when it played a medley of songs representing the five branches of the military. Veterans stood when the song of their service was played.
Dave Wentz, co-chair of the Healing Fields exhibit, sought perspective by quoting Ronald Reagan on the relationship between the combat soldier and the society he served.
“Not all of us can walk in the parade,” he read, “some of us are meant to stand on the sidelines cheering.”
But Wentz reminded everyone that those standing on the sidelines had a responsibility to those in the parade.
He talked about attending the funeral of an Afghanistan veteran who took his own life, and how so many of the young man’s friends spoke of him with a respect and admiration bordering on reverence.
“But none of them knew how much this young man had been hurting inside,” Wentz said.
Deb Rickert, co-founder of Operation Support Our Troops, pointed out that, while the nation still had men and women in combat in Afghanistan, they also are deployed in humanitarian missions around the globe.
“From Haiti to Staten Island, our military steps in when they are needed,” she said.
The audience included many with family members who served.
“My husband spent six years in the Marines,” Dianne Scarborough, a 40-year Naperville resident, said of her husband sitting with the other vets round the base of the Carillon.
Noting that he spent two years in Vietnam, she hinted that his reception on returning home from that conflict was less than ideal.
“He finally gets to see that we really do honor them,” she said.
Marine Sgt. Kamal Abdelbaki wore his dress blues and said, “it’s amazing” of the turnout.
“I’m honored and privileged to be out here at events like this” he said. “It warms my heart.”