Good morning and thank you to my friends at the VFW Post 6791 for inviting me to say a few words to convey the city’s deepest gratitude and respect for the men and women who have served this country; those sitting in this room, those presently serving in outposts around the world; and those who have gone before us and now rest in cemeteries here and across the nation.
Last week, I participated in an event sponsored by the VFW, the Wreaths Around West Chicago 5K Run/Walk. Its goal was to raise enough funds to purchase and place wreaths on every veteran’s grave this year. The effort was an overwhelming success, 986 wreaths were sponsored, and for the first time ever in our community, every veteran’s grave will be adorned with a remembrance wreath. We will never forget what our men and women of the military gave up for our freedom.
While we all may know the history of Veterans Day, which began as Armistice Day commemorating the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 when the Allied powers signed a ceasefire agreement with Germany bringing the war later known as WWI to a close, and which later was designated Veterans Day to honor all veterans of every war; we may not be as familiar with the personal stories, of individuals who wore the uniform. They came from big cities and small towns like West Chicago, and answered the call of duty and preserved the freedom we cherish today. We must never forget their bravery, sacrifice and service.
When then-Governor Ronald Reagan introduced returning POW John McCain at a speaking engagement in 1974, the future president asked, “Where do we find such men?”
He was speaking of many veterans when he answered, “We find them in our streets, in the offices, the shops and the working places of our country and on the farms.” He was speaking about ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things through their courage. And West Chicago has had its share of these hometown heroes.
Thanks to organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6791 and Commander Steve Bennier, the American Legion Post 300 and its Commander Bill Birch, their Ladies Auxiliaries, Sons of the American Legion, and our City Museum, strong connections to West Chicago veterans are kept alive and present in our community, and we will continue the tradition of honoring the men and women who answered the call to serve in our military.
Some of you may recognize their names from the past. Others may have had encounters with them on our neighborhood streets, or in the offices and shops of West Chicago. And still others, newer to the community, will be inspired to hear their names for the first time. And so, I’d like to share these brief profiles of West Chicago courage:
Shirley Belding, who came to West Chicago in 1948, met her husband Chip Belding in the Army Air Corps. Shirley was a Nurse and held the rank of Lieutenant. She had been the Head Nurse at the Hotel Biscayne in Miami where she was instrumental in getting proper care to wounded veterans at the end of the war, a project that was championed by Eleanor Roosevelt. And Shirley was known to tell the story of having tea with the First Lady in the kitchen of the Hotel as they awaited the first flight of incoming soldiers returning from Europe;
Jo Gustafson, a Staff Sergeant who ran the motor pool in Germany during WWII. Her husband and later her son were Post Commanders of the VFW in West Chicago. Jo preferred to reflect on her service in the Army privately. She was honored with a seat on the Women Veterans of West Chicago float in the Railroad Days Parade in 1994 along with 13 other female vets spanning all branches and service throughout Europe, Burma, and the South Pacific.
Anne Weyrauch who served in the Army Nurses Corp in the jungles of Burma from 1942 – 1945, obtaining the rank of Captain;
Mary Brady who served in the US Army from 1975-1981. She ran the motor pool in Germany, just as Jo had done decades before her. Mary is a graduate of West Chicago High School, class of ’75. She bought her first home in West Chicago and raised a set of twin daughters who now both work at local banks here in town.
Donald C. Madden had 1 semester left at Purdue University when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941. He was quickly found out to be a “college boy” and was promoted to Officer – specifically a Lieutenant in the 9th Air Force (B26 Marauder Pathfinders) where his command provided air support for the invasion of Normandy. Don worked with the French and German resistance as he scavenged parts from downed planes behind enemy lines. Following the war, Don sponsored the immigration to America of many of those freedom fighters who had hidden him from harm. He passed down a legacy of service to his two sons and daughter;
Neil C Madden, of the West Chicago class of 1968, enlisted in the US Navy upon graduation and served 23 years as an Air Traffic Controller. He was an instructor and trainer. He finished his military career as being the Air Controller to The Blue Angels. He is now retired, living in Southern California and still working part time as a Weather Advisor at the Naval Air Station where he last served.
Jim Madden, West Chicago class of ’61, enlisted in the US Air Force and was sent to SAC (Strategic Air Command). He worked on P-47 in Minot, ND where he sustained a severe injury and was discharged. Jim returned to West Chicago, but sadly passed away in March 1968.
Diane Madden Ferguson, West Chicago High School Class of ’71, who served in the US Navy from 1973-1978. Diane was one of the first 50 women to be assigned into a formerly all-male rate of Radarmen when it was converted to Operations Specialist in 1973;
Duane J Ferguson, West Chicago Class of ’48 who served in the US Marine Corps from 1950-1952. Upon returning to West Chicago he went back to work for Belding House Movers (where he’d worked before the military) and remained there for 40 years. Duane and his wife, Dee raised 4 boys in West Chicago;
Michael D Ferguson, Class of ’69 from West Chicago. Michael served in the US Navy from 1971 to 1974. He served as an A-6 Jet Mechanic aboard the air craft carrier USS Independence;
Don Smith, who spent 30 years in the Army in a variety of leadership roles. A combat veteran, Don spent time in Vietnam as a Special Forces member (also known as a Green Berets) of the “A” Team. He is a master parachutist, with parachute badges from five countries. Don has received many awards including the Bronze Star and the Legion of Merit. When he retired, he was the acting Command Sergeant Major of General Patton’s Third Army;
Current City Clerk, Nancy Smith, who served in the Women’s Army Corps where she worked at the Pentagon in the Army War Room. This was where she and Don Smith met. They went on to marry and just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary;
WWII Navy veteran Chuck Scheckel who served on a Destroyer in the Pacific and is a living example, along with others including Chuck Schramer, and cousins John Klingberg, Ken Beardsley, George Tugana, and George Cvek, of the greatest generation — those brave men and women who grew up in the United States during the Great Depression and then went on to fight for our country in World War II.
There are many more veterans among us here today who will proudly tell of their service if asked. To them, as to all veterans of our nation, we say thank you;
West Chicago is also home to vets from Korea, Vietnam, and the ensuing wars such as Desert Storm and Iraq. Currently, my nephew, Staff Sergeant Edward Thomas Pineda, West Chicago graduate, class of 2003, has served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and remains on active duty. His decision, and that of all our veterans, to defend our country, continues to give us the right to live freely. Let’s continue to pray that my Nephew and that this Generation make it home safely.
Thank you for giving me the honor of speaking about some of these brave men and women today, there are many more, and we will continue to honor them by sharing more of their stories in the future. Our Veterans have given us freedom, security and the greatest nation on earth. May God bless them today, and always.
Thank you for our great Nation, thank you for our freedom and I personally thank you.
God bless all of you for your presence here today. God bless West Chicago and God bless the United States of America.
Mayor Ruben Pineda