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Navy corpsman: ‘We all understand duty’

Army Major Charles Nystrom salutes during prayer College Lake County's Veterans Day Ceremony. | Mark Ukena~For Sun-Times Media

Army Major Charles Nystrom salutes during the prayer at the College of Lake County's Veterans Day Ceremony. | Mark Ukena~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 9, 2013 1:45AM

GRAYSLAKE — In a heartfelt and moving ceremony, the College of Lake County celebrated Veterans Appreciation Day on Friday as part of its Veterans Day observance, which is on Sunday.

Speakers touched a number of the 50 or so veterans in the auditorium and included a poem by Joel Chmara, a Highwood resident and speech professor at the college.

Chmara recalled himself in a free verse poem as an 18-year-old wisecracking kid working in a drug store when he encountered an elderly man looking for help with the copier machine. He was looking to make a copy of a picture of a dozen young men in uniform. Chmara checked his cheeky attitude.

The photo was frayed on the edges, black-and-white, creased. “This was taken right before we went to Normandy. See these seven made it. I’m making three copies for the three that are still with us. We’re meeting up for the first time in 20 years this weekend,” he told Chmara. Humbled, Chmara helped him use some functions to clean up the picture and then lied and said there was a 50 percent veteran’s discount.

He grew up and became a teacher and remembers the veterans in his class, naming off a list of them. “Thank you for your perspective, for leading by example. Thank you for the stories you shared and the ones you can’t. You deserve more than just a poem, more than just one day, more than just a veteran’s discount,” he said.

Ingrid Marlowe, 29, of Lake Villa and Student Veterans Club president, shared a letter her father, who was an active duty reservist, had written to her when she was 6 years old and upset that he wouldn’t be going to the zoo with her and her mother because it was drill weekend. She wouldn’t let him tuck her into bed so that night he wrote to her explaining why after all these years he still went to reserve meetings. Her mother gave her the letter six months ago.

He hoped she would understand when she was older. “Like your schoolmates, nations hesitate to fight one another when they have a reasonable doubt about winning. Enough of us, reserve and active alike, must be willing to train to the point we create a doubt in our nation’s potential enemies. That helps us preserve our freedom to work, worship and live mostly as we please,” she read.

He went on to describe the past sacrifices and he said, “participating in the reserves is a small payment on the enormous debt we owe them. One day it will be up to you to pay part of it,” read Marlowe, who was also a reservist. He said the country’s strength lies in its democratic ideals, not its military, but “This is why, my dear, I’m in the uniform of my country.”

Keynote speaker Debra Lewis, a North Chicago resident and retired Navy corpsman, who now works at Naval Station Great Lakes, said she was honored, but also a little nervous when she learned she was the keynote speaker. “I’m a little awestruck,” she said. “I am now officially a veteran.”

Lewis said she asked herself what did she have in common with veterans that will sit in the audience and the first thing she thought of was duty.

“No matter what branch of the service you served in or what uniform you wore, we all understand duty. It was our calling. It’s what got us up in the morning and laid us down every night. That was an unwavering selfless dedication that we had to our branch of service,” she said.

She recalled leaving Cleveland and joining at 18. After boot camp and learning how to fire weapons she went to school and at one point they were told they may be shipping out to Desert Storm. At first she was worried, then she calmed herself. “It is my duty. This is what I signed up for,” she said.

Lewis came full circle being assigned to Naval Station Great Lakes, working on merging the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the base hospital to become the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center.

“It was very good,” said 93-year-old Navy Corpsman George Phillip Ripple of Lincolnshire who makes the ceremony at CLC every year with the help of his daughter, Linda Jackson. Kenny Laforge, 61, of Antioch and a Purple Heart combat veteran who served in Vietnam was also glad he came. “I was impressed. It was very good,” he said.

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