Ceremony honors fallen Evergreen Park soldier
BY STEVE METSCH email@example.com October 22, 2011 10:18PM
Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton (second from left) presents an honorary street sign to Susan and Kevin Stanker, the parents of Spc. Jared D. Stanker, Saturday morning October 22, 2011 in Evergreen Park, Illinois. Spc. Stanker, an Evergreen Park resident and alum of Brother Rice High School, was killed in action in 2009. Looking on at right is Stanker's sister Jordan Brandl and her son Ethan Brandl. | Art Vassy~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 22, 2011 1:34AM
Jared Stanker’s family can still see the half-smile that never was far from his face. He never is far from their thoughts.
And on Saturday, about 200 people — many who never met him — were thinking about Army Spc. Jared Stanker.
Stanker, 22, was killed on duty Oct. 27, 2009, in Afghanistan. Six other U.S. soldiers died in the attack that used a roadside bomb.
Folks came to a ceremony Saturday honoring the fallen soldier from Evergreen Park.
At the corner of Circle Park, where Stanker played endless hours as a youth, the village installed an honorary street.
Standing a few feet from a boulder dedicated last year to his memory, the sign is on the park’s east edge at 97th Street near the ball field.
Stanker’s mother, Susan, his father, Kevin, and Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton unveiled the street sign after a brief ceremony.
“Jared loved this park. He played here young and played here old. He and his friends played softball. They were here all the time,” Susan Stanker said.
Before blessing the sign, Deacon Mark Phelan, of Most Holy Redeemer Church, said, “Jared was a blessing in himself, a blessing to his parents, his friends, his family and his country. My prayer is whenever you see this sign, remember the joy he brought to their lives, the blessing he was to them,”
The pain still is fresh for Stanker’s mother and sister, both of whom choked up while talking about him.
“It’s been, obviously, a very difficult two years. But you do the best you can and you try to help the other military (families). We’re here to help with other people. There’s a bonding. There’s nothing like a military family. We stick together. (There’s) the pain of having someone overseas and waiting for the knock (on the door). It seems like yesterday that we got the knock on the door. But you keep going on and make sure Jared or any other of the KIAs (killed in action) or wounded warriors are forgotten,” she said.
Stanker’s sister, Jordan Brandl, thanked the village “for the ongoing support of our troops and the families.”
“This is a place he loved and called home. Jared enjoyed many great days and nights in the park. He is definitely here today with his half-smile and half-grin,” she said.
Sexton presented a replica of the sign to the family. It will be displayed in a room at Brandl’s home that’s filled with memorabilia about her brother. Affectionately dubbed “J.D’s Barrack,” it houses his belongings, “posters and little crazy stuff,” that he had with him in the Army, Susan Stanker said.
“It’s fun. Jared is always there,” Susan said.
Jared fulfilled his longtime goal when he joined the Army, she said.
“I told him, ‘I know you’re going, but you’re in Afghanistan. That’s no walk in the park,’” she said.
Jared told her, “those people have the right to life like we do,” she recalled.
Asked about President Barack Obama’s announcement Friday to pull all the troops out of Iraq by year’s end, she said, “I hope it happens.”
Sarah Marshall, who attended the ceremony with her son Gunnar, 10 days old, hopes to soon see her husband, Dillion Marshall. He is a Marine in Afghanistan and is due to return home in time for Christmas. He was on the phone with her when she gave birth at Little Company of Mary Hospital.
“I worry every day. I think everybody does,” Marshall said.
Stanker’s father, Kevin Stanker, was impressed by the turnout at 8 a.m. on a chilly Saturday.
“You know, ever since all this happened, I’ve got a bunch of new friends, a lot of support. This is wonderful. It’s a great spot. Jared hung out here a lot. It’s good,” Kevin Stanker said.
After the ceremony, Stanker’s aunt, Mary Beth Ramos, paused to read the boulder dedicated to his memory. “We love you and you will never be forgotten,” is inscribed on the plaque.
“I think about him every day. I miss his sense of humor. He was always smiling, or, like Jordan said, half-grinning. He was a character and a joy to be around,” said Ramons, of Oak Lawn.
Stanker’s photo is included in the Illinois Patriot Guard’s Fallen Heroes Traveling Memorial Wall displayed Saturday at the Maher Community Center near the park. Photos of more than 240 Illinois residents are on the wall.
Susan Stanker slowly walked along the wall, looking at each photo, a friend gently patted her on the back as she cried.
Billy Kummer, of Evergreen Park, didn’t know Jared Stanker. But he felt a kinship. Jared graduated from Brother Rice High School in 2006, Kummer in 1980.
“I’m just paying tribute to him, another Brother Rice graduate,” Kummer said. “Wars seem to keep on going. They don’t stop. I see the photos of the dead people, and I wonder, ‘What for?’”