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‘The reason we enjoy the freedoms we have’

The Waukegan Veterans Day ceremony was held Veterans Memorial Park WashingtWest streets. | Judy Masterson/Sun-Times Media

The Waukegan Veterans Day ceremony was held at Veterans Memorial Park, Washington and West streets. | Judy Masterson/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 13, 2013 6:18AM

Richard Boomer, 90, saw “a lot of horrible things” in war but he also saw goodness in the men and women who were called to serve, in their courage, commitment and camaraderie.

Sitting bundled against the cold and the rain at the city’s Veterans Memorial Park during the Waukegan Veterans Day ceremony on Monday, Nov. 11, Boomer, who directs questions to his good ear, recalled a nation at war in 1942, the year he graduated high school in Fond du Lac, Wis.

“The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor − we’re of that generation,” Boomer said. “We knew our nation was in peril. We all wanted to volunteer.”

Boomer, a retired chemist for Abbott Laboratories and longtime Waukegan resident, completed a year at the University of Wisconsin then tried to enlist, but was drafted first. He joined the U.S. Navy in February 1943, at age 19, and he graduated at the top of his class at Hospital Corpsman School at Great Lakes Naval Station. On April 2, 1945, he was sent aboard ship to Okinawa, Japan.

He recalls having to cling to a cargo net 40 feet over the Pacific to disembark to landing craft under the threat of kamikazes. One of his first tasks was to help haul water to troops on shore, passing-off the containers to a small group of Marines who were unloading ammunition.

“We got 50 or 60 feet away, and they all blew up − just disappeared,” said Boomer, who grew up during the Great Depression and also served with a Marine attachment during the Korean War.

“You don’t forget very easily,” Boomer said. “Some of my buddies didn’t come back.”

The Waukegan ceremony also included remarks by Mayor Wayne Motley, who gave a moving account of learning about his own father’s World War II naval service aboard the USS Lowery in the South Pacific in a death-bed accounting 23 years ago.

“He told me it was his honor to have served,” said Motley, who then uttered the words he said he wished he had said sooner “Thank you, dad.”

A crowd of about 200 attended the parade and ceremony despite the rain. “This is military weather,” Boomer said.

“Our veterans serve in all kinds of weather − rain, heat, snow,” said state Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan. “They’re the reason we enjoy the freedoms we have. Coming out in the rain and cold is the least we can do.”

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