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Soldiers get a taste of home during Christmas gatherings

Sheddrick Taliaferro cadet from Naval StatiGreLakes talks his family Atlantduring Christmas Day feast Veterans Foreign Wars Post 2791 Tinley Park.

Sheddrick Taliaferro, a cadet from the Naval Station Great Lakes, talks to his family in Atlanta during a Christmas Day feast at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2791 in Tinley Park. There were about 20 cadets at the feast. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 27, 2013 6:23AM



For many, Dec. 25 brings with it the promise of spending time with loved ones around trees draped in iridescent lights and fireplaces crackling with yuletide warmth.

But for those serving in the military, Christmas usually is just a bittersweet reminder of faraway family and friends.

“It’s the toughest time ever,” said Bob Shaffner, who served in the Army from 1965 to 1967. “This is the worst time of the year for anyone in the military, especially if you’re overseas. It’s lonely.”

That’s why members of American Legion Post 615 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2791, both in Tinley Park, decided to host a Christmas Day feast for about 40 cadets from Naval Station Great Lakes, the Navy’s only boot camp, as well as veterans from the Manteno Veterans Home and those served by Together We Cope.

About 20 recruits went to each event, where they could call loved ones on donated cell phones and log onto the Internet via provided laptop computers.

After they were done reconnecting with family and friends, cadets played Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360 video games and feasted on an eclectic Christmas meal, which was provided by community donations from throughout the Southland.

“We’re here to serve our veterans, and these young people happen to be veterans,” said Shaffner, who also is commander of American Legion Post 615. “This is the up-and-coming new wave of military personnel.”

John Bartosiewicz, the organizer of the VFW event who served in the Navy from 1967 to 1970, said he also can relate to longing for home on Christmas.

“We knew what it was like when we were in boot camp,” he said. “Being away from home for the first time at 19 years old, you have kind of a lost feeling. You’re not around your family and stuff like that.”

The event also featured holiday music and decorations, as well as Christmas cards created by area schoolchildren for the veterans and cadets.

Many of the recruits said they were thankful just to be able to hear their loved ones’ voices.

“It’s absolutely fantastic,” said cadet Austin Long, of Salt Lake City, Utah. “I mean, I get a phone call maybe once a week while I’m over in boot camp, and it’s just really nice to be able to do something like this for Christmas.”

“This is probably going to be one of the most memorable Christmases that I’ll ever have,” Long said.

Cadet Daniel Horsford, of Brooklyn, N.Y., said the day was a nice reprieve from boot camp.

“I’m enjoying this,” he said. “I love being in boot camp, to tell the truth. It’s been great, and I’ve learned a lot of life lessons, but being able to get out like this shows that they actually care for us.”

Cadet Aaron Wescovich, of Spokane, Wash., said he was touched that so many VFW and American Legion volunteers took the time to host the event.

“This is awesome,” he said. “It’s great. I love it. It feels good to know that people are willing to adopt us and take us in on Christmas, especially when they could be with their families.”

Wescovich said his family was pleasantly surprised to hear from him.

“They were happy, of course,” he said. “My mom got a little teary-eyed.”



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