Local veterans honored at Soldier Field ceremony

Veterans said the Veterans Day holiday is important because it focuses the public’s attention on military service and those who put themselves in harm’s way to protect America’s freedoms.

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Brigadier General Patricia Wallace, commanding general of the 91st Training Division of the U.S. Army Reserves, salutes during a wreath presentation at a Veterans Day commemoration ceremony Thursday at Soldier Field.

Brig. Gen. Patricia Wallace, commanding general of the 91st Training Division of the U.S. Army Reserves, salutes during a wreath presentation at a Veterans Day ceremony Thursday at Soldier Field.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

It’s been 26 years since Ralph Wimmer last served his country, but he wishes he could do it all over again.

“If I wasn’t too old and they called me to the ship, I’d go tomorrow,” said Wimmer, 67, who grew up in the Roseland neighborhood.

Wimmer spent 22 years in the Navy as an aviation storekeeper making sure planes had the parts they needed before taking off from aircraft carriers. He remembers assisting in an evacuation of the Beirut embassy in the early 1980s and serving in operation Desert Storm a decade later.

He loved every second of it, he said, and remembers those who weren’t fortunate enough to make it back alive.

“You don’t think about things happening, you don’t think about being injured or hurt or killed. You don’t have time,” Wimmer said. “There’s many people that didn’t make it home to protect our freedoms that we have in this country.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, JROTC members, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Brigadier General Patricia Wallace, of the U.S. Army Reserve, participate in a wreath presentation during a Veterans Day commemoration ceremony Thursday at Soldier Field.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, JROTC members, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Brig. Gen. Patricia Wallace participate in a wreath presentation during a Veterans Day ceremony Thursday at Soldier Field.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Veterans like Wimmer were honored Thursday at Soldier Field by politicians and community leaders.

“These past nearly two years of the pandemic have offered many of us new light with which we can revisit our perspectives on the world,” said Gov. J.B. Pritzker, whose father and grandfather were naval officers.

“It’s a humbling reminder of a great, ever-present community of centuries: the men and women who did not need any reminder by an invisible enemy to know that great service, and sometimes great sacrifice, are needed to preserve our values.”

Veterans said the holiday is important because it focuses the public’s attention on military service and those who put themselves in harm’s way to protect America’s freedoms.

“Every veteran made sacrifices for this country,” said Moe Durant, 71, who served in the Vietnam War. “Some left their families behind — a lot of sacrifice for democracy and freedom. ... There were things that didn’t turn out with the effort that we put in, but that was politics.”

Rudy Acevedo, 68, of Pilsen, said it’s gratifying to be recognized on Veterans Day.

“When you enlist in the service, there’s no guarantee you’re gonna come home,” said Acevedo, who served during the Vietnam War. “You’re just giving of yourself what you can, and not really looking for anything when you come out. To have a day like this where we’re recognized, it’s nice.”

Larry Galczak, 73, a U.S. Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War, salutes during a Veterans Day commemoration ceremony Thursday morning at Soldier Field.

Larry Galczak, 73, a U.S. Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War, salutes during a Veterans Day ceremony Thursday at Soldier Field.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot also honored members of Chicago Public Schools’ Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.

The Junior ROTC members presented a wreath to honor all veterans.

“We need to honor our veterans while they’re alive,” said Brig. Gen. Patricia R. Wallace, commanding general of the 91st Training Division of the Army Reserves. “We need to give them their roses while they’re alive; we should celebrate our veterans now and celebrate them often.”

Soldier Field hosted a Veterans Day ceremony Thursday morning.

Soldier Field hosted a Veterans Day ceremony Thursday morning.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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