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Evanston salutes fallen soldiers at Memorial Day service

General Douglas MacArthur at the dedication of Fountain Square in Evanston, Illinois, April 27, 1951. General MacArthur had recently returned to the United States. Credit: Chicago History Museum

In 1951, Neil Franke stood and watched as General Douglas MacArthur dedicated Fountain Square and paid tribute to the Evanston residents who died while serving their country.

Franke, who went on to serve as a sergeant in the United State Marine Corp., returned to Fountain Square Monday, May 30—more than 70 years later—to again pay tribute to the men and women of the military who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Neil Franke served as a sergeant in the United State Marine Corp. Credit: Adina Keeling

The service was sponsored by local veteran groups, including the Evanston American Legion Post 42 and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 7186. It drew a crowd of more than 150 people who listened to speeches from several veterans, heard the names of the recently Deceased veterans and watched as organizers laid down a wreath to honor the fallen soldiers.

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin said, speaking to the crowd that the vast majority of the soldiers whose names mark the Fountain Square Veterans Memorial Wall died young. He said, “The people listed on our wall grew up here in Evanston, went to our local schools, played in our parks and hung out on our streets.”

Suffredin, who served as an officer in the US Air Force, said as one of few veterans in elective office, he felt privileged to be at the Memorial Day service.

Fountain Square as people gather on Memorial Day May 30, 2022. Credit: Fred Tanenbaum

He recalled visiting to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Arlington National Cemetery during the Vietnam War to remind himself that service is about real people whose lives were cut short. “Life in the military is not a movie with a happy ending,” he said.

Commander Charles Spivey, a member of the VFW Post 7186, reminded the audience that Memorial Day is about honoring those who gave their lives as “the ultimate sacrifice to our country.”

Army veteran Brian Beatty braces the flag of the Veterans of Foreign War Post 7186 from wind during the Memorial Day ceremony. (Photo by Richard Cahan) Credit: Richard Cahan

His colleague, Commander Will Candelario, a member of the Evanston American Legion Post 42, agreed. “Memorial Day is not about picnics and parades,” he said.

A time of remembering

US Army veteran Mildred Harris attended the ceremony with friend Susan Aron. “I was a WAC – in what used to be called the Women’s Army Corps,” Harris told the RoundTable. She said she chose to serve when the military was mostly men who were drafted into the service. At the time, women having equal status to men was considered radical by many Americans.

Despite the challenges, Harris said she has no regrets. “It was an incredible experience, absolutely. I served for three years… I served in communications, and it was always very interesting. So, I miss that part of it,” Harris said.

From left, Mildred Harris, Phoebe Bradford, Susan Aron at the Memorial Day ceremony, “Remembering Those Who Sacrificed All.” Credit: Heidi Randhava

John Fuller, who attended Monday’s memorial, lost his brother, James “Skinner” Fuller, in the Vietnam War. “I remember that day like it was yesterday,” John told the RoundTable. “I remember when the officers came to our front door. I remember the knock. I remember they had to tell my mother and my father that my brother was deceased,” said John.

Jason Nemo, Jr., left and his grandfather, Rehova Nemo, Quartermaster, Snell Post 7186 Credit: Heidi Randhava

Only 8 years old at the time, John was the youngest of six boys and two girls. His brother James was the oldest boy. “The exact details I don’t know,” John said. “I just know I lost a brother. I don’t think I ever really want to know the details. I just know it was a mortar shell.”

The Snell VFW Post 7186 Auxiliary, formerly named the Women’s Auxiliary, does everything it can to support veterans, President Gerri Sizemore told the RoundTable.

Sizemore said she comes from a military family: her husband served in the Navy in WWII, her brother served in Korea, her nephew and great nephew were Marines, and her niece served in the US Navy.

“We are the land of the free because of the military,” she said.

Korean War veteran Adam Kwiecinski salutes during the Pledge of Allegiance. “I come to honor the ones who passed away,” he said. (Photo by Richard Cahan) Credit: Richard Cahan

Candelario suggested to the crown that one way community members can support fallen soldiers is by looking after their loved ones, especially on a day such as this.

The American Legion legacy scholarship aims to help make sure that the children of the men and women who died in service have what they need to go to college — the scholarship fund makes higher education accessible to these families.

Neil Franke said he felt lucky that to attend this year’s service when so many soldiers can’t. Franke, who is a great grandfather, considers it a privilege to raise a family and grow old.

“The reason that we are gathered here is to remember those who made our way of life possible,” said Candelario. “They are the guardians of our freedom.”

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