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Recruits from Naval Station Great Lakes celebrate Thanksgiving

Leah Sbigoli serves recruits from Naval StatiGreLakes Kyle Woodard Foley Ala. left Fabian Arias from Jersey City N.J. Ercilio Polanco

Leah Sbigoli serves recruits from the Naval Station Great Lakes, Kyle Woodard of Foley, Ala., left, Fabian Arias from Jersey City, N.J. and Ercilio Polanco, of Elizabeth, N.J. | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media.

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Updated: January 29, 2014 3:23AM

David Berry signed up at age 17 to defend his country as a sailor in the U.S. Navy.

At age 18, he finally was able to enter the service, leaving behind his home in Baton Rouge, La., on Oct. 10 to start his boot camp training as a police officer at Naval Station Great Lakes.

“I joined the Navy to travel and experience a new life – and also for college,” the 18-year-old recruit said.

Though he’s spent other Thanksgiving days away from his mother with his grandparents in Florida, this is the first for which he isn’t with any family.

Berry is one of about 40 recruits from the naval station who took time out from the rigorous training of boot camp to relax at the seventh annual Thanksgiving celebration Thursday at the Morton Grove American Legion Memorial Civil Center. For many of the recruits, it was their first time away from family on a major holiday.

The event included a traditional Thanksgiving meal with turkey and the trimming, entertainment and recreation, including playing video games.

Berry, who had spoken with his mother Linette Williams earlier in the day,said the day away from the naval station was a welcome relief.

“It feels like freedom,” he said. “Actually, like I’m insane right now because in boot camp, you have no privacy whatsoever.”

The event started with “The Star Spangled Banner” and a welcome from American Legion member Casey Bachara, who chaired the event. He brought the event to Morton Grove’s American Legion chapter when he transferred there from his previous chapter.

“You’re here because of the uniform,” he told the recruits. “Be proud of that uniform because we’re proud of you.”

Ray Ariaz, senior vice commander of the American Legion post, led the recruits in a sing-along of patriotic songs, including “God Bless America,” “This Land is Your Land” and “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” He was joined by recruits David Ainsworth of Snowhill, Md., and Kannon Klahr of Caldwell, Idaho, playing guitar in the hall decorated with red, white and blue crepe paper ribbons.

“It’s just our way of showing our love for you,” Ariaz said.

Morton Grove’s Star Bound Dance Company also took to the stage to perform a lyrical dance.

Beside each plate at lunch lay cards from grade school children thanking the recruits for their service.

Post Cmdr. Joseph Lampert normally would have spent Thanksgiving with his wife and children, but while they were away celebrating the holiday in Florida, he chose to remain behind to give back to the recruits.

“It’s showing that even though they’re new, we’re all veterans. It’s veterans helping veterans,” the retired Navy veteran said. “It’s still a chance for me to do what I did for 24 years.

“I think it’s a great stress reliever. It’s giving them a day away from boot camp. Boot camp is an eye-opening experience, as we can all attest to.”

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