The crowd watches as the colors are retired at the end of the 70th Anniversary D-Day Commemoration Ceremony hosted by Orland Park and the Orland Park Veterans Commission. A reception in the Civic Center annex followed the ceremony. | Ginger Brashinge/ for Sun-Times media
Updated: July 9, 2014 6:34AM
In an emotional evening of remembrance and respect, veterans of D-Day, June 6, 1944, were honored by Orland Park and the Orland Park Veterans Commission in a ceremony and reception Friday at the Orland Park Veterans Memorial and Civic Center.
”We cannot possibly show enough deep appreciation and gratitude for the men who fought and died on D-Day and the long fight they carried on to end World War II,” Orland Park Trustee James Dodge said. “The burden then, on the rest of us, is to honor what they did ... and to remember always.”
About 250 people assembled under a sunny early-evening sky where, as if on cue, flags flew fully unfurled at the Veterans Memorial, “Place of Peace.”
“It was like somebody ordered the evening,” Orland Park Veterans Commission recording secretary Gail Blummer said.
Four known D-Day veterans—Joe Schutte, Steve Horosinski, William O’Malley and John McNaughton—took seats of honor inside the memorial area with other D-Day and World War II veterans and their families while men in the uniforms of veterans groups filled the bleachers with family and friends.
Music of the 1940s—upbeat, nostalgic, sad and sassy—played for an hour before the solemn ceremony began with the posting of colors by Orland-Palos Reber-Tesmond Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2604 and American Legion Orland Post 111, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem,” sung by Frann Carnivele.
Guest speaker Moraine Valley Community College associate professor Josh Fulton spoke about the sacrifices made on D-Day, “which offered hope for the speedy end to a long war.”
“It’s through events like this that veterans know how grateful we are,” Fulton said.
Orland Park resident William O’Malley, 92, one of the honored D-Day veterans, said the ceremony did accomplish that goal.
“It means a lot to us because it shows people are really appreciative of what we did for our country,” O’Malley said.
O’Malley said he wanted to enlist in 1941 as soon as the war broke out, one of many young men who felt the same way.
“We waited in long lines (to enlist),” O’Malley said. “You would go on Monday and maybe not get in till Wednesday or Thursday.”
O’Malley, a member of a U.S. Navy amphibious unit in World War II, said “all we were trained for was hitting beaches.” He hit a couple in Sicily and Salerno, Italy, he said, before he made it to Normandy.
Already a member of the “greatest generation” on June 6, O’Malley was about a week shy of his 21st birthday, and he didn’t know whether he would live or die. But, he said, he wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again.
”I’d do it tomorrow,” O’Malley said. “I’d do it right away.”
Veteran Affairs Commissione chairman and Iraqi war veteran Phil Bell said the history books have never really been able to “fully explain” D-Day.
Bell said to see and talk to the veterans who lived through it “gives you a lot more than you (can) read in any book” and to remember the men who lived it “makes the community better as a whole.”
All World War II veterans were invited to speak during the ceremony, and some had stories to tell.
Orland Park resident Bill Stefanu, with the Army Corps of Engineers during WW II, recalled liberating France and entering Germany in the last days of the war on the European front.
Stefanu said his life and the lives of his fellow soldiers were saved when he listened to the voice of his “guardian angel” who told him not to enter an area that was filled with land mines.
“We were lucky,” Stefanu said as he recounted that the voice proved to be right.
O’Malley and other veterans again werew invited to speak at a reception following the ceremony where WW II footage of D-Day preparations and battles on the Normandy beaches was shown.
“A couple of the guys were very emotional,” Blummer said. “They got choked up. They’re not used to talking about it, but they know now that we’re really very interested. It’s a privilege and an honor to honor these brave Americans.”