Members of the Lake Forest American Legion Post 264 were at work preparing for Lake Forest Days Monday – putting up tents, lights and other finishing touches at West Park.
, which celebrated its 100th birthday last year. They do it out of love for the community and don’t ask for recognition.
“Some people have no idea – they think, how do those flags get put up every year?” Legion Commander Tom Marks said. “But there are people who want to serve the community and make it a better place. They go over to help veterans at the VA (Veterans Administration), or help young kids on active duty.”
This year’s parade theme is “Lake Forest Salutes Vietnam Veterans,” paying tribute to another group that is not often recognized for its contribution to the community.
“Honoring the (Vietnam) veterans is something that’s long overdue,” Gary Simmons, a member of Post 264 and veteran of the Vietnam War, said. “We’d like to express the appreciation that my generation did not.”
"It's About Time."
“It’s about time,” Al Champ, a Legion member and retired army colonel who served for 34 years, spending one year in Vietnam said.
“It’s been 40 years and some (veterans) didn’t get any recognition then. It’s great that they’ll get it now, and it’s nice that the city comes out and supports it,” Champ said.
“When I came home [from Vietnam], I immediately changed into civilian clothes. You just didn’t go out in uniform. Most of us couldn’t go to the welcome home parade in Chicago, so it’ll be nice to be a part of this,” Bud Turner, another Legion member and Vietnam Veteran, said.
The parade’s Grand Marshall, Paul Baffico, is a Vietnam veteran who volunteers at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. once a month.
“In the past, we’ve saluted veterans of World War II and Korea. The fact that this is 2012 doesn’t have much significance, but the peace conference happened in 1972,” Marks said. “This is the 40th anniversary.”
“Our guys are getting to that age where you want to do it when they’re living,” Mark said.
60 Post Members Served in Viet Nam
Sixty post members who served during Vietnam have been invited to walk behind the Color Guard and Rifle Squad. They will be joined by 13 Vietnam veterans travelling over five hours from Carlyle, according to Bill Malich, chairman of the Lake Forest Day Committee, who contacted veterans’ assistance associations all over the state to invite them to attend.
“It’s amazing the kind of support you can get from that far away,” Simmons said. “There’s so many stories that go around. It reinforces that feeling of being connected. You go months feeling disconnected and then the community comes together like this. It epitomizes what’s great about our country.”
After the parade, Marks will make a pronouncement before lunch is served to the veterans in the Bingo tent. “We’ll ask [the veterans] to tell their stories and hopefully some of them will take the opportunity,” Marks said.
National Honors Society members from Lake Forest High School and local Boy Scouts helped with tent set-up.
“The (high school seniors) are a big help because a lot of us are getting older. I don’t think we could do it without them,” Simmons said.
Students Help Give Back
“I thought it would be a good way to give back,” National Honor Society President Peter Gruenes said.
Ashley Turner, granddaughter of Bud Turner, said she volunteers because of her family’s many connections to the military. “(The veterans) have a lot of great stories from the past,” she said.
On Tuesday at sundown, St. Mary’s will ring their bells in honor of Vietnam veterans.
It’s hard to follow a centennial celebration as grand as last year’s, but Marks said, “We’ll try to match it, if not surpass it,” to do honor to the Vietnam veterans.