Good morning and thank you to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6791, its Ladies Auxiliary, members of the American Legion Post 300, its Ladies Auxiliary, and the Sons of the American Legion, for the privilege of speaking to you today as we gather to honor the memory of our fallen heroes.
Thank you also to the many individuals and groups who are here, contributing in some way to the beautiful and moving expressions of music and prayer included in this service.
The observance of Memorial Day is something that we as Americans recognize as a solemn duty to those who sacrificed their lives for the principles and ideals of freedom and democracy. We have a responsibility to all those who were left motherless, fatherless, childless, or without a spouse because their loved one answered the call to serve. Their numbers are in the millions.
We must remember the price of war and our debt to those who paid it.
Observances like today’s, here at Oakwood Cemetery, are one way to do this.
The American Legion Auxiliary has pledged to remind America annually of this debt through the distribution of a memorial flower, the red poppy, which is the designated symbol of the lives lost in all wars. I hope you wear yours proudly today in tribute to them.
My conversations with local and DuPage County veterans over the years have brought me to a deeper understanding of what they endured, many of them tearing up when talking about those who didn’t make it home. They will never be forgotten.
I’d like to tell you about one such hometown hero, who lost his life half a world away from West Chicago, in the jungles of Vietnam.
Army Specialist 4th Class Randall Jacob was a 1964 graduate of West Chicago Community High School. He was Class President and lettered four times in football and three times in track. In an article in the West Chicago Press published in 1999, it was noted that he had a long list of academic accomplishments, and participated in Student Council, Spanish, Math and Varsity Clubs, and was a National Honor Society member. Although finances were tight, his desire to attend college after graduation, led him to do so as a part-time student while working at an old Western Electric factory in town, however, he was forced to drop-out when he could no longer afford college costs.
Randall saw the GI Bill as a way for him to continue his education, and in 1965, he enlisted. As fate would have it, the Vietnam War broke out soon after, and in March 1967 Randall was sent over and assigned to a helicopter supply unit.
He was killed in action, just five months after his arrival in Vietnam. He never got to return to college or say good-bye to his family. He was 20-years old when he was laid to rest at Glen Oak Cemetery.
This story holds a very special spot in my heart. Randy Jacob was my neighbor when I was a young child. There was nothing more amazing than watching Randy throw the javelin, launch the shot put or make the discus sail clean across the yard. When you are 6 years old and fortunate enough to see one the of the greatest West Chicago athletes of that time right in front of you, it was a blessing. It planted a seed in all my brothers, cousins and myself to be better athletes. Randy showed us that if you work hard athletically and academically, you can be whatever you want to be. Unfortunately, our time with Randall Jacob was too short. Even though he’s been gone since the sixties, I think of Randy quite often and visit him when I can at Glen Oak Cemetery.
In 1976, the West Chicago VFW established the Randall Jacob Football Medal and Trophy, which is awarded to one member of the West Chicago football team who most exhibits the qualities that Randall consistently displayed in his short lifetime – academics, athletics and leadership. The permanent trophy sits in the display case at the High School, and is a supreme honor for each recipient whose name is added to the nameplate at its base.
Randall Jacob was one of five West Chicago natives to be killed in action in Vietnam.
His father, the late Pablo Jacob, was quoted in the West Chicago Press article with these words: “In war, a community must steel itself to accept the loss of some of its finest young men – its Randy Jacobs,” he said. “But it is hard, and you never know what to say…”
Today, our presence here at Oakwood Cemetery is speaking for all of us, and we do know what to say, West Chicago will never forget you.
Thank you, and may God continue to shine His light on our great community West Chicago and on our wonderful country, the United States of America.