In their honor

Veterans salute during the Veterans Day ceremony at the memorial in Naperville on Monday, November 11, 2013. | Jon Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media
Naperville World War II hero Leo Kuefler is thanked for his service by Estelle Wroble of Naperville. Kuefler was a tanker in 4th Armored Division during the Battle of the Bulge. | Jon Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media
Despite a chilly drizzle, a large crowd turned out for the Naperville Veterans Day ceremony at the memorial on Gartner Road. | Jon Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media
Naperville American Legion Post 43 Chaplain Richard Komarek (right) leads a prayer as Past Commander Terry Jelinek stands by as master of ceremonies of the Naperville Veterans Day ceremony. | Jon Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media
Conductor Ron Keller (middle) leads the Naperville Municipal Band in a medley of the anthems of the branches of the military during Veterans Day ceremony on Monday, November 11, 2013. | Jon Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media
Veterans salute the flag during the playing of the National Anthem at the Veterans Memorinal in Naperville on Monday, November 11, 2013. | Jon Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media

It was 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month. And exactly 95 years later, people honored the auspicious moment that defined Armistice Day once again.

The rain and approaching cold front put a pronounced chill in the air around Veteran’s Park in Naperville Monday morning, but those who were there for the annual Veterans Day ceremony hosted jointly by Judd Kendall Post 3873 and American Legion Post 43 understood it was nothing compared to the sacrifices made by those who serve.

Lined up in the park on Gartner Road behind eight flagpoles from which the U.S. and state of Illinois flags fly alongside one representing each branch of the military, approximately 50 veterans faced an audience of about twice that many who had come out to show their gratitude. Held every Veterans Day, the ceremony includes comments from area veterans’ organizations and music played by the Naperville Municipal Band.

Rich Komarek, chaplain for the local American Legion post, called the occasion “an observance, a remembrance and a day for inner reflection.”

The ironclad timing for the commemoration has solid reasoning behind it, he added.

“It symbolizes the sacrifices and hard-fought freedoms won by all of our nation’s veterans, past and present,” Komarek said. “It is a specific moment in time, to stop our daily lives and remember to give thanks and pay tribute to the bravery, self-sacrifice and devotion to duty of the veterans, when called upon, that have served our nation’s 237-year history.

And they served proudly, with honor, to protect and defend liberty and freedom — sometimes the freedom that we take for granted as a country.”

He called on the visitors to look within themselves to see what each of them is doing to support veterans through outreach, volunteerism and participation in community events that benefit vets.

Organizations that help former service members are struggling to meet their needs, as funding cuts impede their programming. One in seven homeless Americans is a veteran, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and reviews of a study commissioned by the Department of Veterans Affairs concluded that four out of five Vietnam veterans continued to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder decades after they were discharged. The VA reported earlier this year that every 65 minutes, a veteran commits suicide.

“Our veterans need us,” Komarek said. “Our national leaders also need to step up and do more for veterans who have served us so well.”

Among those in the crowd were Peggy Blankschein and her sons, Gregory Middle School students Chris, 13, and Tom, 12. The Naperville residents come to the ceremony every year “so they appreciate why they have the day off school,” she said.

The brothers appeared to appreciate it.

“We come to say thanks to the veterans who served,” Chris said.

And the veterans were thankful for the gratitude.

Mike McGrath, who served as a platoon leader in the U.S. Army’s 1st Calvary Division in Vietnam in 1966-67, comes to the ceremony every year. He sees the tradition as having abundant benefits.

“We’ve been through a lot in the last 10, 15 years. We really have,” said McGrath, who had only been out of the military for about a decade when he moved to Naperville. “We’ve had recessions, wars, 9/11.

This helps us to reflect on the good things, and how lucky we are, how fortunate we are to have friends.

“It means a lot.”

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