Memorial Day memories from Pat Quinn — and me

The former governor will attend an exhibition at the Clearing library of 300 portraits of Illinois soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ll be remembering my dad, a decorated World War II soldier.

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Former Gov. Pat Quinn

Former Gov. Pat Quinn

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

A soldier’s legacy …

Former Gov. Pat Quinn has plans on Memorial Day.

Quinn, who attended 300-plus funerals, wakes and memorial services for Illinois soldiers killed in action from his days in office as lieutenant governor and governor from 2003 to 2015, is still keeping their memories alive.

“It is an honor to accompany a traveling memorial of 300 portraits of Illinois soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan on Memorial Day to the Southwest Side’s Clearing Public Library,” Quinn said.

The exhibition, titled “Portrait of a Soldier,” was commissioned during his tenure as governor and has been displayed at libraries all over the state.

One of the portraits is of decorated Marine Daniel Zizumbo, “a soldier from the Southwest Side who was so discouraged at not finding a job when he came home from Iraq he joined the U.S. Army, got deployed to Afghanistan and was killed in an assassination attempt while guarding Vice President Dick Cheney,” Quinn said.

“Lots of families come together at such events to once again console each other and remember,” said Quinn, who visited the combat zone in Iraq in 2004 and returned as governor in his role as commander in chief of 3,700 National Guard members from 2009 to 2015. He also has visited Afghanistan, where 19 service members were killed.

“The exhibition is a way of keeping alive their legacy of service,” he said. “Altogether, 300 Illinois service members were killed in action during my time in office.”

In 2003, Quinn went to Iraq to visit troops following the death earlier that year of U.S. Air Force helicopter pilot Ryan Beaupre, one of the first American casualties of the war.

Quinn’s father, Patrick, served in the Navy during World War II before coming home and working for Catholic Cemeteries.

“At dinner, my dad would sometimes say, ‘Three years! One month! And 15 days!’ in reference to the time he served on an aircraft carrier. He was very proud of his service,” Quinn said.

“We used to have flags in the house, which we’d put up on Memorial Day. Dad would leave at the crack of dawn to get to the cemetery to handle huge crowds coming with flowers and memory bouquets and notes they’d leave on graves.

“These soldiers were what a priest once called ‘Righteous Oaks,’ who fell giving their life for our country.

“Ways of connecting may have changed, but we must always find ways to do so on this day of commemoration.”

Lest we not forget.

My unanswered questions for Dad

This day for me will not be like any other.

It is a day of remembrance for my father and all that he did not tell me about his days as a highly decorated Army soldier in World War II.

An aging yellow piece of typed vellum in an old cigar box tracks a soldier’s story — Dad’s B-17 list of bombing missions in the Pacific theater several days before my birth in late 1943.

But it tells me nothing about how he felt as a young gunner in war encountering all that “ack ack ack” in the sky the day I was born.

So many questions never asked before my father’s death at 62, like why he always felt he was living on borrowed time.

Dad’s jumble of war medals and bars and stripes and the Distinguished Flying Cross now rest in a bank safe along with the untold stories behind them.

The bigger question: Why did this soldier’s daughter, who chose a profession that requires you to always ask questions, never really ask them of him?

“Dad doesn’t like talking about the war,” my mother always said.

It’s true Dad rarely talked about the war, but he always held his war buddies close no matter where we lived.

So it is in my garden on Memorial Day that I will find my larger-than-life father once more: the grower of giant dahlias, snapdragons and more vegetables than his family ever could eat.

And it is there I will remember a father who challenged me to ask questions even if he was unwilling to answer all of them.

“If you don’t ask questions, you’ll never get answers,” he used to say.

But once, when he knew his time was short, my father gave me an answer I never expected.

“Sometimes, Mike, there are questions which have no answers.”

And that is something I will always remember.

Sneedlings …

Former Attorney General Bill Barr, who was fired and rehired and finally quit Donald Trump, was spotted lunching solo recently after exiting the cafeteria line at the Union League Club. “Barr was wearing his trademark blue suit and red tie and still looking very much like he did in the White House,” said a Sneed source. “And absolutely no security in view.” Saturday birthdays: Sen. Marco Rubio, 51; singer Gladys Knight, 78; and basketball legend Jerry West, 84. Sunday birthdays: actress Riley Keough, 33; basketball player Carmelo Anthony, 38; and singer Rebbie Jackson, 72

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