Blind veterans honored in Orland Park
BY JAIME ANGIO Correspondent November 19, 2013 7:32PM
James Keck (right), 89, a Navy World War II veteran, shakes hands with Robert Schwilk, 93, an Army World War II veteran, on Oct. 20, 2013, at All Saints Lutheran Church in Orland Park. | Jaime Angio~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 25, 2013 6:02AM
On a recent Sunday afternoon, veterans from the Blind Center program at Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital took a break from a program where they are working on skills that help them acclimate to life, and were treated and honored with a luncheon for their service, dedication and hard work.
The visually impaired veterans, from various parts of the country, paid a visit to All Saints Lutheran Church in Orland Park.
Members of the American Veterans Motorcycle Riders Association, Soldiers Guardian Angels, Warrior Watch Riders, and members and volunteers from All Saints Lutheran Church worked together to bring the veterans to Orland Park, providing them with a motorcycle procession, flag line, music and lunch.
For most of the veterans, the experience of being welcomed with honor and the opportunity to get out and enjoy an ice cold beer, camaraderie, conversation and story-swapping was something for which to be truly thankful.
Sam Foust, 65, a Vietnam War Navy veteran from Wadena, Minn., said people were just amazing.
“I like the idea of getting out and meeting new people, and this is just an awesome experience,” Foust said.
He said the welcome in Orland Park was very different than the one he remembers from after the Vietnam War.
“It’s fantastic,” he said. “When I came home, we kind of had to sneak in the country, and I got home in ’71, and Vietnam wasn’t well-received, and this is just amazing. You can’t say enough about it. I really appreciate it.”
Joe Crocco, 68, a Vietnam War Army veteran from Crystal Lake, said he got a little sentimental when he saw the escort.
“This is the first time I ever saw an escort like this,” Crocco said. “I appreciate it. It’s overwhelming.
“This is the stuff that should be in the news. You hear all about the bad things all the time; you don’t ever hear about good things like this. This is all just very nice.”
Pastor Don Borling, of All Saints Lutheran Church, said the gathering was no fancy program, just a chance for the veterans to get together and have lunch.
“We’re hanging out and doing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ and they just stay here as long as they want and visit. They just like to get out,” he said.
Michael Ernst, 63, a Vietnam War Army veteran from Adair, Iowa, said just knowing that veterans are still remembered touches him deeply.
“This is real nice. It’s nice to get out and see people,” Ernst said. “We’re not forgotten. Having people that just care and they help you out. ... I’m getting to meet a lot of different people from different services and exchanging stories.”
Christy Merrick, 62, an Army veteran from Shawnee Mission, Kan., was shot in the back of the head in 1988 while on active duty and lost her vision. Merrick loves being around her fellow visually impaired veterans.
“We can sit around and swap horror stories,” she said. “It’s good to get out. I like to get out and just talk to people. And I like to tell my story on how I served my country and they’re looking out for me until it’s my time to go. I just take it one day at a time. That’s what I always say.”
John Bartosiewicz, commander of the American Vets Motorcycle Riders Association, who helped provide the escort from Hines, is a Vietnam veteran, too. He said no one who served will be forgotten.
“Never again will one generation of veterans forget another,” Bartosiewicz said. “We will not forget those who are serving, those who have served and those that are less fortunate health-wise.”