Tinley Park playground dedicated in memory of fallen soldier
BY MIKE NOLAN firstname.lastname@example.org August 13, 2014 5:30PM
A red ribbon is cut, officially opening a park named for U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Michael Sutter during a dedication ceremony Tuesday. Sutter, of Tinley Park, was killed in December 2003 while deployed to Iraq, and a petition drive was started earlier this summer to have a park in Tinley named for him. | Mike Nolan/Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 15, 2014 5:22PM
As Tinley Park village and park district officials dedicated a playground for a fallen soldier from the village, they were hopeful it could be a teaching tool as well as a fun place for kids and their families.
Tuesday’s dedication of a newly completed park in memory of Army Staff Sgt. Michael Sutter, who was killed in Iraq in December 2003, marked the successful completion of a petition drive started earlier this summer to have a park named for Sutter.
Sutter’s family unveiled a sign at the park, 8125 W. 171st St., next to the Bettenhausen Recreation Center, and a plaque will be installed at a later date.
Sutter, 28, was killed the day after Christmas 2003 after attempting to defuse a homemade explosive device while deployed to Iraq. He enlisted in the Army in 1994, less than a year after graduating from Andrew High School, and after eight years joined the National Guard.
Sutter was part of a bomb disposal unit attached to the National Guard’s 745th Ordnance Co. He had manipulated a robot to defuse one bomb, but a second explosive was inaccessible to the robot, and Sutter manually was attempting to defuse it when it blew up a foot away from him.
Sutter’s father, John, was a longtime judo instructor in the park district, and Michael and his three siblings were involved in the program.
Kim Fazio, who spearheaded the petition drive with her sister, Terri Hilton, began taking judo classes when she was 8 years old and spent 20 years in the program, ultimately earning a black belt.
The family’s longtime involvement with the park district had sparked the idea of seeking to have a park named for Sutter.
During Tuesday’s dedication, Brian Younker, park district board president, said “the park district is honored” to name the park for Sutter, noting that “generations to come” will visit it.
Mayor Ed Zabrocki talked of the intense pain parents feel upon the loss of a child, and said there is “nothing we can do for the Sutter family to make that hurt go away.” Still, the park, he said, will be “a playground for kids to understand,” and to read about Sutter and “wonder ‘What did he do?’ ” Zabrocki said.
State Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Orland Hills, a former U.S. Army captain who served in Iraq, noted the members of the Army explosive ordnance disposal unit Sutter was part of “were the bravest of the brave” and responsible for saving the lives of many soldiers.
“He (Sutter) was the 911 of our U.S. Army,” Hastings said, then, turning to the soldier’s parents, John and Judy, he told them, “Thanks for giving us Mike.”
Judy Sutter said her husband taught judo for the park district from 1975 until 2002, with hundreds of kids participating over the years. One of his former students now is the district’s judo instructor, she said.
“I’m very proud,” John Sutter said after the dedication ceremony.
Michael Sutter was part of the judo program for 22 years, starting when he was 5. At the dedication, his parents presented park district officials with a display case that included various state and national championship titles their son had garnered while a participant in the program.
Organizers of a petition drive had gathered nearly 3,000 signatures in an effort to have the park named for Sutter, and the online petition drew supporters from countries including Australia and Canada, Judy Sutter said.