Friday, November 30, 2007

Spartans Cruise


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Sycamore's Josh Howells leans into Byron's Travis Bond while driving the lane in the third quarter of the Spartan's 51-32 victory over the Tigers on Tuesday night at Sycamore High School. Howells led all scorers with 15 points, and added four steals.


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Sycamore's Will Strack squares up to shoot a jump shot in the fourth quarter of the Spartan's 51-32 victory over the Byron Tigers on Tuesday night at Sycamore High School.

Breaking New Ground


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Administrators, construction workers and supporters of the Sycamore School District toss dirt into the air Tuesday afternoon at the ceremonial groundbreaking at the site of a new elementary school at Plank and Lindgren roads north of downtown Sycamore. Construction on the school, which is yet to be named, is slated to finish in the summer of 2009.

Big Dig, Growing Town

Story and photo by Eric Sumberg

Community.

Nearly everyone in attendance at the groundbreaking for a new elementary school at Plank and Lindgren roads in the new Sycamore Creek housing development stressed that word when describing how they got to this day of gold shovels and hopeful smiles.

“It shows that we work together as a community,” Michelle Bohlig said.

Bohlig and Maggie Peck were co-chairwomen of the committee that helped pass a referendum in April providing the $30 million in funding to build the elementary school, which is not yet named, and make repairs on three other buildings.

“If it's what the community wants, people buy into it more,” Bohlig said.

Tuesday's groundbreaking ceremony on the 15-acre site was the culmination of more than two years of work by Sycamore School District officials and community members. The process to upgrade existing schools and build a new elementary school began in the summer of 2006 and has already yielded tangible results, such as last year's addition to South Prairie Elementary.

Additionally, construction at West, Southeast and North elementary schools is part of the school district's facilities planning process to accommodate a potential doubling of the district's student population in the next 10 years. The goal is to create equity in the district, schools Superintendent Wayne Riesen said, and to create more modern facilities through both new buildings and renovating older ones.

Architect Jim Woods of FGM Architects in Oak Brook is designing the new building, which will be divided into three academic wings intersected by two common spaces, a “cafeterium,” or combination cafeteria-auditorium, and a library. It will be organized by grade levels, and additional emphasis will be placed on spaces the community can use.

The K-5 elementary school will incorporate some elements of sustainability into its design through directional positioning. By the placement of classroom wings on the north-south axes and entryways on the east-west axes, sunlight will warm the building in the morning and late afternoon but won't interfere with classrooms during the day.

Steve Hendrickson of Shales McNutt Construction of Elgin will help manage the construction at the Plank Road site and at the other schools. Grading at the Plank Road site began in October and is 95 percent complete.

Bids are being solicited for interior work at the school, and construction should begin in March. Hendrickson predicted that work will be finished on the three elementary schools in the fall of 2008 and at the Plank Road school by summer 2009.

On Tuesday, however, all the work was ahead, and the transition from planning to process had begun.

“We're appreciative of our community for the support they gave to education,” Riesen said. “This is an exciting day for Sycamore schools.”

Basketball Upon Us


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG DeKalb High School's returning basketball team starters, clockwise from bottom left, Tyler Smith, Jordan Threloff, Grant Olsen and Jon Umoren, make the Barbs a team to watch in the Western Sun Conference.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Moving Bradbury


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Dawn Diaz, 29, of DeKalb walks down a staircase at the DeKalb Public Library on Monday evening with copies of “Fahrenheit 451,” a novel by Ray Bradbury. Diaz has worked as a part-time book shelver at the library for three months.

On the Shelf


Story and Photos by Eric Sumberg

Dawn Diaz never thought working as a part-time book shelver at the DeKalb Public Library would be demanding.

“It's actually physical work,” the 29-year-old DeKalb woman said. “I never imagined working in the library would be so physical.”

On Monday night, Diaz had to carry a stack of copies of “Fahrenheit 451.” The Ray Bradbury novel is the focus locally of The Big Read, a program to foster literacy and reading.

DeKalb was one of 200 communities nationwide participating this year in The Big Read, a National Endowment for the Arts initiative “designed to restore reading to the center of American culture,” according to the organization's Web site. The NEA presents The Big Read in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest.

The DeKalb Public Library teamed with Altrusa International, the DeKalb County Community Foundation, the Kishwaukee College Family Literacy Program and the DeKalb School District to hold the program locally.

Diaz has worked as a part-time shelver at the library for three months, working some nights and every other weekend.

“I love books, and I enjoy writing in my free time,” she said. “I get a lot of inspiration from being around books.”

Her favorite books to read are cookbooks and books that feature food such as “Like Water for Chocolate” by Mexican novelist Laura Esquivel, but lately she has been reading “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway and “Atonement” by Ian McEwan.

An aspiring writer herself, Diaz has been taking courses by mail to improve her craft, although she hasn't submitted any work to journals or publications yet.

“I'm just afraid that if I get decline letters, it'll discourage me and I'll forget the whole thing,” she said, but added she is enthusiastic about her new potential career.

For now, though, she will focus on achieving smaller goals than a professional career in books.

Her first landmark? Reading all the books featured on the shopping bags from Barnes & Noble.

Joe Novak Retires


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Northern Illinois University football coach Joe Novak is solemn as he approaches the podium at which he would announce his retirement. During Novak’s 12-year tenure, the Huskies went 63-75 and shared the MAC West Division title four times. NIU also made appearances in two bowl games (2004 and 2006) and the league championship game in 2005.


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Northern Illinois University football head coach Joe Novak becomes emotional Monday during his announcement that he is retiring from coaching after 12 years at the helm of the Huskies. “It’s time. It’s the right time for me personally, for my wife and family, and for this program. Everyone says you know when it’s time, and this is it for me,” Novak said.


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Northern Illinois University football players Vincent Matthews, left, and Danny Hilbert share a laugh after a Huskie supporter told a humorous anecdote about retiring head coach Joe Novak during a press conference on Monday at the Yordon Center.


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Joe Novak, like these birds flying over the Yordon Center on the campus of Northern Illinois University, will be heading south in the coming months when he moves into a home in Southport, North Carolina, where he will live with his wife Carole on the Intercoastal Waterway

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Day Before Eating

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Inboden’s Meat Market employees Carlos Vizarro (left) and Xan Peladonia check turkey inventory in the back of the store as customers came to claim their Howard Kauffman Thanksgiving turkeys on a rainy Wednesday morning. “One of the best turkeys you’ll ever find around,” employee Brandon Mathesius, 23, said as he brought a turkey from the refrigerator trucks to a customer in the store.

Turkey Rush

Story and Photos By Eric Sumberg

Wednesday was a big day at Inboden's Meat Market in DeKalb.

Thirty-eight employees were hustling from the front of the store to three refrigerated trucks that at one point held 800 all-natural free range turkeys from Howard Kauffman Turkey Farms in Waterman.

With about 300 turkeys out the door by 10 a.m. on Wednesday and about 500 to go, the staff prepared for a long and busy day.

“The last thing you want to do is screw up Mrs. Johnson's holiday meal,” said 29-year-old Joe Inboden, the store's general manager.

Though his father, store owner Tom Inboden, has been managing the holiday rush for decades, Joe Inboden says he still gets the holiday jitters. About 40 people lined up to pick up their turkeys early Wednesday morning, said Joe Inboden.

He had all of them on their way within 12 minutes.

“We have the greatest customers in the world,” he said.

Turkey prices were up a dime this year to $2.29 per pound, but the traditional Thanksgiving birds are not huge moneymakers for the store.

Small turkeys were more scarce this year because of the weather. Inboden's sells birds ranging from about 8 pounds to 34 pounds, though most people tend to purchase a 14- to 16-pound bird.

Carla Aspengren of Maple Park had two turkeys in her cart as she checked out around 11 a.m. She has been coming to Inboden's since 1994 and buys her turkeys there every time she hosts the holiday meal. She'll be feeding 22 people this year.

“Buying fresh turkeys, I'd rather get them here,” she said.

Teresita Sterkael of Sycamore bought a 12-pound turkey for the six guests she expects Thursday. She lived in Germany with her husband until they moved to the United States in 1993. There, people eat parts of the bird, but not whole ones, she said.

She used to buy frozen turkeys at Jewel, but after discovering how long they took to cook, she decided to go the fresh route.

“From now on, every year I get the turkey here,” Sterkael said.

The man in charge, Tom Inboden, also is preparing for his family's gathering - which can include 6 to 36 people depending on the year.

“I always oven-roast my turkey,” Tom Inboden said.

But as tastes change, accommodations at the holiday table have been made.

“Thirty years ago, people bought turkey from November to December,” he said. “It's not unusual for people to buy turkey in July and deep-fry them.”

Offerings at the Thanksgiving table have gone beyond just turkey as well, he said, with ham and roast beef often being offered.

Thanksgiving is a busy time for Inboden's, but it is Christmas that draws the knowing glances from employees.

“Christmas is two meals and lots of giving away and gifting,” Tom Inboden said.

“This is child's play compared to Christmas,” employee Jennifer Harding said.

Wrestling Preview

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Genoa-Kingston junior Zach Dean, top, has Mooreport's Jake Stegeman all tied up in their 171-pound match that Dean won by pin in the second period during the Cogs' 72-3 victory on Tuesday night at Genoa-Kingston High School. The Cogs are in their second-year as a squad under the leadership of Sam Walt.


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Sycamore senior heavyweight Jason Schepler, right, returns after being the lone Spartan to earn a trip down state last year. Schepler was 43-11 last year, and is the type of athlete that Sycamore coach Chauncey Carrick called the total package.


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG The 2007-08 DeKalb High School wrestling team will feature several sophomores and juniors such as junior Ryan Crews above, as the Barbs have a deep reservoir of talented wrestlers to challenge for starting positions.

Burger Joint

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Adam Grubbs, 16, of DeKalb talks on his cell phone Tuesday while chowing down on one of the 15 Slyder hamburgers he ate at White Castle on the DeKalb restaurant’s first day of business. “The quality of the product is pretty good, but it’s pretty much too much,” Grubbs said of his quest to eat half of a Crave Case of Slyders, which has 30 burgers.

The Castle Comes to Town

Story and Photo by Eric Sumberg

In the annals of food consumption, the words of Adam Grubbs may become legend.

As he inhaled 15 White Castle Slyders, the square-patty steamed hamburger that is the chain's signature offering, Grubbs paused momentarily and looked around while digesting.

“I just burped ... ooh, more room,” the 16-year-old DeKalb resident said, and continued on his successful quest to eat half of a Crave Case of 30 Slyders.

Perhaps you can forgive him his enthusiasm. Tuesday marked the grand opening of the westernmost-in-Illinois White Castle at the corner of Sycamore and East Dresser roads in DeKalb. At 9 a.m. the doors opened for a chain that has taken its time to come to the DeKalb market.

“We had been out in Aurora. It took us a long time to get out here, but we've been looking around the area,” said Bill Thompson, regional director of restaurant management for White Castle.

The closest White Castle restaurants not in DeKalb are in Batavia and Aurora. But establishing the frontier of the Columbus, Ohio-based chain and the allure of a college town were too much to resist.

“A lot of the kids that are college students here grew up with us, knew us well,” Thompson said. “We've had a lot of customers out here who were White Castle customers long ago.”

Indeed, the demand for White Castle, at least on opening day, appeared to justify the building of a restaurant with room for around 43 people at any given time.

Melanie Heard of DeKalb brought her 2-year-old daughter, Briannah, to the store to please her father, who lives in Lansing, Ill. Heard says her father told her that whoever opened this White Castle is extremely smart, as he predicts that person will make his or her money back in a month.

“I don't know if anyone can like them (White Castle) as much as he does,” Heard said.

When she came into the store, she had managers snap her picture on a cell phone to send to her dad to prove that she came on opening day.

“He always requires gift cards from here,” Heard said.

Though her father recently lost 80 pounds due to a new job in maintenance, he remains a steadfast customer.

“He's the Jared of White Castle,” Heard said with a laugh.

The new store will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, said store managers Sandra Tipsword and Ahmed Uddin. They received many applications for full- and part-time positions through a partnership with the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce and are still looking to fill spots. The White Castle will employ about 30 people when fully staffed.

If Tuesday is any representation of the fast-food restaurant's market penetration, White Castle should be here to stay.

News of its opening flooded DeKalb High School in a couple of hours, said Lucas Klatt, 16.

“White Castle is amazing,” agreed his friend Luke Finnan, 15.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The End of an Era

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Ralph's News Stand & Trophy House owner Doris Seats, 70, plans to close the store later this week. She helped run the business with her late husband, Ralph Seats, who passed away last year. For Doris Seats, leaving the store will be difficult after 55 years in business. "I can still see him setting here down the aisle, so it's going to be a sad time for me," Seats said.


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Secondhand and new pipes are among the thousands of small items that line the shelves of Ralph's News Stand & Trophy House on Lincoln Highway in DeKalb. The store will close its doors the day after Thanksgiving, and an auction of unsold merchandise will be held Dec. 2, said store owner Doris Seats.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Funeral of Spc. Ashley Sietsema

Read the Article "Laid to Rest"


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Members of the funeral honors team based out of the Crestwood and North Riverside Armories of the Illinois Army National Guard carry the casket of Spc. Ashley Sietsema to her final resting place at Fairview Park Cemetery on Sunday afternoon in DeKalb. Sietsema was 20 years old when she died while driving an ambulance in Kuwait on November 12.


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Veterans of Foreign Wars District 19 Commander Paul Kallemback struggles to hold back tears after Olivia Segura, the mother of the late Spc. Ashley Sietsema, thanked supporters who lined the road with flags in support of her family near the Ronan-Moore-Finch Funeral Home on Sunday morning. "You know what's amazing?" Kallemback said. "When you talk about heroes...her life was taken trying to save somebody else's. She was an ambulance driver. That's dedication to service."


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Attendees at the burial service for Illinois Army National Guardswoman Spc. Ashley Sietsema, 20, who died in a traffic accident in Kuwait on November 12, bow their heads in respect as Pastor Dwight Bailey of Austin Boulevard Christian Church in Oak Park delivered a prayer at the start of the ceremony at Fairview Park Cemetery on Sunday afternoon in DeKalb.


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Sam Finch, left, funeral director of Ronan-Moore-Finch Funeral Home in DeKalb, listens as Nadia Alvarez, the aunt of the late Spc. Ashley Sietsema, who died due to injuries caused by a traffic incident in Kuwait on November 12, addresses the media on Sunday morning outside of the funeral home. "She is truly our hero and will always be in our hearts," Alvarez said.


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Two police escorts drive in front of a hearse carrying the casket of Spc. Ashley Sietsema into Fairview Park Cemetery on Sunday afternoon in DeKalb. More than 75 cars made a processional from Ronan-Moore-Finch Funeral Home on Oak Street to the burial ground for Spc. Sietsema. War veterans and supporters lined the entrance to the cemetery with American flags and flags of the armed services and saluted as the hearse drove past.


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Sandy Carey, left, and Christine Vesta are tearful after the mother of the late Spc. Ashley Sietsema thanked them along with other supporters who lined the road to the Ronan-Moore-Finch Funeral Home before the visitation and funeral service for her daughter on Sunday morning in DeKalb. Asked by a reporter why she felt compelled to attend Sunday's events, Carey replied, "Because I'm an American."


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Illinois Army National Guard Major General William L. Enyart hands a folded flag which had draped the casket of Spc. Ashley Sietsema to her mother Olivia Segura at the burial ceremony of her daughter on Sunday at Fairview Park Cemetery in DeKalb. The husband of the late Spc. Sietsema, Max Sietsema, right, of DeKalb, also received a folded flag in honor of his deceased wife.


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG DeKalb residents Nancy, front, and Kris Ousen became emotional while observing the funeral service for Illinois Army National Guardswoman Spc. Ashley Sietsema at Fairview Park Cemetery in DeKalb on Sunday afternoon. "I showed up for respect of her for what she's done for us," said Nancy Ousen.


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Alberto Segura, right, the stepfather of Spc. Ashley Sietsema, spreads dirt on the grave of the deceased as her mother Olivia Segura, far left, is comforted by her friend Martha Ramirez after the burial ceremony of her daughter at Fairview Park Cemetery in DeKalb on Sunday afternoon. "She was a very nice girl," Ramirez said.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Dodge This

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Scared Hitless team member Dan Szkola, 37, of Sugar Grove jumps higher than even he thought possible to unsuccessfully avoid getting out in a match against the Over 40 team at the Ben Gordon Center Foundation second annual Charity Dodgeball Tournament at the Recreation Center at Northern Illinois University on Saturday afternoon.

Second Annual Dodgeball Tournament Hits DeKalb

Story and Photos by Eric Sumberg

Jim Bohlig's Over 40 dodgeball team had just dispatched the Houdinis in an epic match.

Tempers had flared as opposing sides accused each other of cheating. Taunting and finger pointing were seen.

“How did you play?” an inquiring reporter asked.

“Like a bunch of old farts,” Bohlig, 39, replied with a smile.

The second annual Ben Gordon Center Foundation Charity Dodgeball Tournament at the Recreation Center at Northern Illinois University on Saturday afternoon brought out the kid in participants young and old.

About 63 teams - comprised of more than 600 participants in youth, adult and business divisions - engaged in the schoolyard classic on the rubberized surface of the indoor gym at NIU.


Victors were crowned based on talent, as well as good looks. The Peter Panzies took home top honors for best-dressed youths, while The A-Team, shown above, outfitted in headbands, custom-printed T-shirts and long socks, were the favorites for adults.

Robin Schrader, 21, of the NIU coed service organization Alpha Phi Omega, volunteered to help officiate matches. She was impressed by the level of competition, particularly among the men's squads.

“Some are very ... what do you say ... they whine a lot over calls,” Schrader said. “The guys teams are very competitive.”

The competition on the coed side was similarly fierce. Dave Lamphere, 43, of DeKalb and the Cruz Missile II team, had his glasses knocked off his face in a match against the Blue Ballers. Despite this slight dishonor, his team prevailed and he seemed no worse for the wear.

“You come going, ‘It's only social,' but when you start playing, it's really fun,” Lamphere said.

Ben Gordon Center President and CEO Michael Flora made sure all the matches went smoothly and participants respected the dodgeball code of conduct.

“Everybody's been a great sport,” Flora said. “They're here to have a good time.”

The dodgeball event accounts for approximately 20 percent of the Center's fundraising for the year. Last year, the organization spent $400,000 on charity care for people who needed financial help, in the form of sliding-scale fee reductions and indigent care, while using the Ben Gordon Center's services for mental health and substance abuse treatment. This year's event should raise about $20,000, Flora said.

“It was an absolute blast,” Flora said. “Great sportsmanship from the entire community. Overall, it was a success.”

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Benji Feldheim of the Northern Illinois Publishing dodgeball squad is ambushed by teammates after they discovered their first match would not be held due to a forfeit from the opposing team. No Feldheims were hurt in the incident.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Gold and Silver

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Isela Garcia (left) and her daughter, Ariana Diaz, shop for jewelry at the Gold and Silver Shop on DeKalb Avenue in Sycamore on Friday afternoon. The retail store, owned by Gary and Kathy Cook, is going out of business after 27 years operating in the area. The couple plans to open a new store in late January that will be primarily for custom jewelry and repair. “I’m going to miss all of our customers,” Kathy Cook said.

It's the Service That Shines

Story and Photos by Eric Sumberg

Karen Morris is not worried that the Gold and Silver Shop is going out of business.

A customer, friend and co-worker of the Sycamore store's owners Gary and Kathy Cook for many years, Morris is not going to go without her favorite jeweler.


“I know where he lives,” she said.

The Cooks are closing their jewelry shop after 27 years in business in the Sycamore area with a three-day going-out-of-business sale that ends at 5 p.m. Saturday. With more than $500,000 worth of merchandise still left to sell, there are more than a few bargains to be had at the retail shop.

Gary Cook creates custom-made jewelry for his customers and it is those pieces which have been selling quickly. He does all of the work on his pieces except casting, and his handicraft was on display on more than a few customers who were perusing the goods Friday afternoon.

Morris was wearing a wedding ring that had been melded with an emerald-and-diamond cocktail ring. Cook's son, Todd Cook, and his fiancee, Lorrie Eaton, were also wearing some of his creations as they helped customers.

Eaton snagged her first Gary Cook-created ring on the floorboard of her car, and now wears a marquis and baguette-shaped diamond yellow gold ring.

“He's one of the best designers I've ever seen,” Todd Cook said.

But it is service that sets him apart, the younger Cook said.

“I compliment him on his family customer service. People come in and they hug him,” Todd Cook said.

Customer Donna Newsom of Kingston likes the way she is treated at the Cook's store.

“I'm very sad. This is the only place I shop for myself,” Newsom said as she purchased five pieces of jewelry. “I don't splurge on myself too often, and when I do, this is where I come.”

Gary Cook began his store at the Airport Mall on Route 64 in 1980. After moving into a location near the then-Pick 'n Save on Sycamore Road in DeKalb in August 1988, he lost his entire inventory in a burglary in January 1989.

Despite catching the thief and spending three years in court attempting to recoup costs, he never received a dime of compensation because he was not insured at the time of the robbery.

“You just have to borrow everything you can borrow,” Cook said of picking up the pieces from that blow.

The Cooks moved to their current location near Bethany Road in Sycamore eight years ago. While they are closing their retail shop, they have no plans to disappear from the jewelry scene entirely. They plan to open a custom jewelry and repair shop somewhere in Sycamore by late January.

But before then, they are going to take some time for themselves to recover from the onslaught of customers, some of whom lined up before the store opened Friday morning to get the best bargains.

“I invited 500 of my oldest customers, and they probably all showed up,” Gary Cook said.

For Kathy Cook, however, these few days of hustle and bustle will be replaced by a well deserved break.

“I hope to take a couple of weeks off and just rest,” Cook said with a weary smile as she rang up a customer. “It's going to be hard saying goodbye.”

Tight Spot

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Ethan Bergeson (center) looks for a place to return a few books while Jordan Holthaus (foreground) shows her mother (not shown) her choices after about a dozen youngsters listened to storyteller “Mother Nature” on Wednesday at the Cortland Community Library. The presentation was held among the stacks of books in the nonfiction room because the library is in desperate need of more space. It is in the beginning stages of a campaign to raise funds to move out of its current 1,800-square-foot building into one with more space and facilities.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Jacob Garlisch, 4, of Cortland strains to open the door to the Cortland Community Library on Wednesday afternoon so he can listen to interactive storytellers “Mother Nature and her Friends.”

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Bethany Lexa, left, and Amelia Kaufman, 3, both of Cortland, listen to Mother Nature, an interactive storyteller, as they wear costumes to help illustrate the raconteur's tales on Wednesday at the Cortland Community Library.

Friday, November 16, 2007

One Day in the Daily Chronicle

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Firefighters from 10 area fire departments helped extinguish a fire Wednesday afternoon that demolished a barn at James George’s home on Perry Road in Afton Township. Neighbor Margie Gommel was watching television at 1:30 p.m. when she heard her dog barking, and saw flames when she looked out her window. “I was thinking, ‘Oh my God.’ It was huge. The black, the red. I’d never seen anything so intense,” Gommel said.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Dixon’s Chris Mengel (left) and Sycamore’s Tony Jensen of Chapa General Contractors spread rock Friday morning to grade what will be a sidewalk along Annie Glidden Road in DeKalb. The workers plan to be done creating culverts and sidewalks within 10 business days, company owner Homer Chapa said. The work is part of a project on Annie Glidden and South Malta roads that is expected to be nearly finished next week after slowing down traffic for more than a year.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Construction along Annie Glidden Road, shown here, and along Taylor Street and South Malta Road in DeKalb has been ongoing since October 2006. Project managers have had to contend with setbacks resulting from flooding in August, but hope to complete the project by Dec. 1.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG DeKalb High School swimmers (from left) junior Kate Taylor, freshman Grace Waller, and junior Emily Waller, are headed to the IHSA State Swimming and Diving Meet this weekend at Winnetka New Trier. “We’re really proud of how our team has done this season,” said Emily Waller, who will swim the 100 and 200 freestyle events.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Aaron Zepeda (center), 19, and Jessica Aldis, 17, play the roles of Troy Bolton and Sharpay Evans, two of the lead characters in “High School Musical,” which will open Thursday at the Egyptian Theatre in DeKalb. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Cast members of the Stage Coach Players wrap up a Nov. 8 rehearsal of “High School Musical” with a medley. "The message of the show is we are all in this together, and that may sound simplistic, but the show is very busy and real," said director Gloria Dennison.

Not Bowling Alone

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Superior Diesel’s Bill Smith, 54, of Sycamore concentrates as he rolls a warm-up ball before taking on the team from Fantasy Mobile DJ on Tuesday night in the Business and Professional League at Mardi Gras Lanes in DeKalb. A bowler since age 5, Smith has seen the sport’s popularity wax and wane. “When I grew up, bowling was a huge sport. Today, kids have a lot more to choose from,” he said.

On the Ball

By Eric Sumberg | Staff Writer

My coach always told me you don't leave nothing you can't pick up,” Waterman resident Larry Deming said to teammate Jacob Eich of Paw Paw.

Though they are separated in age by more than four decades, Eich, 21, and Deming, 62, were sharing knowledge and swapping beers Tuesday in that ritual of weekday nights - the bowling league.

Mardi Gras Lanes on Sycamore Road hosts a Business and Professional League, or B & P as manager Phil Johnson calls it, Tuesday nights, along with a mixed league for men and women. Scoring averages are in the range of 110 to 215, although the handicap system tends to keep the playing field even.

Superior Diesel was the league champion in 2004 and 2005. Now Deming, Eich, Fred Warren, Bill Smith and Mike Iturbide - the Superior Diesel squad - are 32-handicap bowlers over a 1,020-pin set of three games. Tuesday night saw them matched against the less-experienced Fantasy Mobile DJ team, whose handicap was in the 250-pin range.

“We're right up near the top,” said Deming, who has been bowling since 1961. “You improve with age because of the knowledge and knowing what to do. But doing it is another story. I've got aches and pains where I never knew I had aches and pains.”

“These guys have been bowling for more years than I've been alive,” added Eich, who averages 203. “I try to do what they tell me to do.”

Warren, 54, of DeKalb, had given up on bowling before being talked into joining the team by Smith three years ago. He is still adapting to the new equipment bowlers use that wasn't around when he gave up the sport in the 1990s.

“In 10 years, everything changed in bowling,” Warren said. “The balls used to be rubber. Today they're a reactive urethane - they hook a lot more than they used to.”

Despite two leagues of bowlers going at once, the lanes at Mardi Gras were not filled to capacity Tuesday. Johnson, manager at Mardi Gras Lanes, blames this in part on the smoking ban put in place by the DeKalb City Council. The bowling alley had to obey the ban starting Sept. 1.

“The leagues held about steady, but the open bowling has been killing us,” he said.

He hopes bowlers will return once a statewide smoking ban goes into effect Jan. 1.

As the first game of three drew to a close Thursday night, the Superior Diesel players' attention was focused on their poker game and pulling ahead of Fantasy Mobile DJ. They were well on their way to a successful night at the lanes - the final score was 1,060 to 896.

Smith, the president of DeKalb Area U.S. Bowling Congress, led Superior Diesel with a 243 game.

With a lifetime of bowling experience behind him, perhaps it wasn't surprising. He wants to get children engaged in the sport at a young age so they will fill in the leagues when they get older.

But even he knows it may be a challenge.

“When I grew up, bowling was a huge sport,” he said. “Today, kids have a lot more to choose from.”

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Larry Deming, 62, of Waterman holds the ball at the arc of his approach Tuesday night at Mardi Gras Lanes in DeKalb. Deming has been bowling since 1961, and despite an 18-year layoff from the sport, he still feels the wear and tear. “I’ve got aches and pains where I never knew I had aches and pains,” he said.

Foster Families

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Marcia Scott helps her adopted daughter Angie, 16, with her economics education homework Wednesday afternoon at their DeKalb home. Scott and her husband, Roger, have taken in 37 foster children during the past 19 years and are currently raising five they’ve adopted. “Nobody gets paid what they’re really worth,” Scott said. “It’s under-reimbursement for what we do, but we just do it.”

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Adopted brothers David Scott, 3, and Alex Scott, 9, take a breather from wrestling last week at their DeKalb home. Because of his special needs, David, who has Down syndrome, counts as two children in the equation that dictates that foster parents are allowed to take in only six children younger than 18 at one time, said his mother, Marcia Scott.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Coming Home

Veterans Recall Returning Home in Times of War


By Eric Sumberg — Staff Photographer

The experience of coming home is one that few veterans and their loved ones forget. Whether they fought on the battlefields of Europe, in the jungles of Vietnam or in the deserts of Iraq, their experience and their return home to DeKalb County were memorable.

As we observe Veterans Day, below are the experiences of six veterans from the major conflicts of the last 70 years as they returned to friends and family from their lives in the military. Their experiences in war vary, as do the political and social climates in which they came home, but their stories transcend the times in which they served.


Lauri Koski

World War II — December 1944


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG DeKalb native and World War II Army Air Corps veteran Lauri Koski stands in front of the train station on Sixth Street in DeKalb where he returned home from Italy on Christmas Eve 1944 to be met by his fiancee and future wife, Evelyn Mosher.

——

The plane that Lauri Koski was flying had a hole blown out of it.

It had lost its controls, and the crew's engineer held the rudder and elevator wires together with his hands to keep it aloft. It was Koski's first mission, one of 51 he would complete, a bombing raid on the oil fields of Ploiesti, Romania.

“We got the devil shot out of us,” Koski recalled. “The Germans had 1,000 88 (mm) and 105 mm guns protecting the fields.”

When they made it back to their base in Foggia, Italy, they landed on one runway and skipped across two others.

“The first 10 missions were bad,” Koski said.

Koski, 89, grew up in DeKalb, the son of Finnish immigrants. When the United States was brought into World War II, he had hoped to serve in the Navy Air Force. When he volunteered in April 1942, however, he ended up in the Army Air Corps, the predecessor to the modern-day Air Force. He was assigned to the 2nd Bomb Group, 49th Squadron, 15th Air Corps.

After serving with distinction, he was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses for his service, he reached the end of his tour and began the journey home to DeKalb. There, Evelyn Mosher was waiting for him at the DeKalb train station on Christmas Eve 1944.

Koski and Mosher were high school sweethearts in DeKalb High's class of 1935. She was living in an apartment with four other young women in downtown DeKalb while working as the office manager at the DeKalb Agricultural Association in late December 1944.

Koski was coming home on Christmas Eve. Back then, passenger rail trains on the Chicago & North Western Railway ran from Chicago to DeKalb, so she waited for him in the train station on Sixth Street.

After landing in Hampton Roads, Va., he took a train to Chicago. The train to DeKalb usually came in around 5 or 7 p.m.

“I was going by the Greyhound (bus) and I decided I'd go in and see what the story was. I said, ‘Oh, heck,' I'm not going to wait for the train,” Koski said. He got in to DeKalb 15 minutes before the train arrived and walked over to the train station.

“My fiancée was in that waiting room waiting for me. She was really surprised,” he said with a twinkle in his eye as he recently recalled the moment. “It was quite a thrill. I came into the door and she came running up and jumping up and I had to grab her!”

Koski enjoyed two weeks of rest and relaxation in Santa Monica, Calif., with his fiancée.

“We had a ball,” he remembered.

Three weeks later they married.

Soon after, Koski traveled to Columbus, Ohio, to teach instrument flying for the remainder of the war, leaving there in July 1945.

Koski often was asked to give speeches at clubs because at that time, “most everybody had somebody that was in the service.”

He was even offered a job by DeKalb Agricultural Association, which later became known as the DeKalb Hybrid Seed Co., after giving a speech about his war experience. He stayed with that company for the next 37 years.

Koski believes that the war he fought in had clear aims and achievable goals.

“We had a mission. Hitler was taking over Europe, and it was a question of stalling the German army,” Koski said.

He feels for the soldiers in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who are fighting for aims that some may view as less clear-cut.

“We sympathize with them and yet we understand they have a mission,” he said.

Ron Setchell

Korea — December 1955

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG DeKalb’s Ron Setchell, 72, holds a photograph of himself from 1954 while he was stationed in Korea with the 151st Engineering Combat Battalion of the 8th U.S. Army. He is shown in front of the first-floor apartment at 1212 Pleasant St. where his mother and brother lived when he returned to DeKalb in 1955. Of his return to life in America, Setchell said he was happy to be done serving his time. “It was nice to be out. I’d been gone a long time. It was nice to get to reality,” he said.

——

The Korean War had been over for six months when Ron Setchell volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army.

Since he knew he would be drafted, he went to Chicago in January 1954 to volunteer in the 151st Engineers Combat Battalion, 8th Army as a heavy-equipment engineer. He had just graduated from DeKalb High School, where he played on the basketball team, and knew he would travel to the Korean peninsula whether he volunteered or not.

Major hostilities had stopped in the war that pitted South Korea and North Korea in the first major post-World War II conflict. The end of fighting was determined by a July 27, 1953, cease-fire agreement, which established a demilitarized zone around the proximity of the 38th parallel.

Setchell set up camp nearby, in a town called Uijongbu.

“It was still hostile,” he recalled. “The country was in shambles.”

His job was to maintain the roads so troops could move equipment through the demilitarized zone. He slept for his entire tour in tents and never had access to plumbing or running water.

“We were just kind of there keeping peace,” he said.

He spent 16 months living within 10 miles of the 38th parallel.

“It was just a way of life and you knew you had to go,” he said. “Everything was water buffaloes, and the rice was done by hand.”

When recalling his time abroad, Setchell, 72, seems to be at pains to describe memorable or noteworthy experiences relating to why he served.

“I guess there was a reason,” he said before reconsidering the divided nature of Korea today. “Actually, we didn't gain a lot, did we?”

When he returned to the United States in 1955, he sailed from Incheon, South Korea, to Fort Lawton, Wash., before taking a train to Fort Sheridan on Lake Michigan. His brother Keith picked him up there a week before Christmas, and he returned to his mother's home at 1212 Pleasant St. near downtown DeKalb.

“It was nice to be out,” he said. “I'd been gone a long time. It was nice to get to reality.”

Within three weeks he was at work at General Electric. By 1956 he was in construction, and in 1957 he began an apprenticeship as a mason, a profession he has been in ever since. While he didn't go to college - many veterans used the G.I. Bill to fund their higher education - he recalled that some of the men who took that path would often stop at the downtown establishment where he occasionally tended bar and would spend a lot of that money on liquor. Some dropped out of school.

For Setchell, serving in the war was something that everyone did, nothing spectacular or grand.

“I knew we were there for 16 months and when my time was up, you got a chance to come home,” he said. “You talk to young people today and they don't even know there was a Korean War.”

Larry Lundberg

Vietnam — July 1970

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Sycamore’s Larry Lundberg, 59, holds a photograph of himself at Fire Base Denise in South Vietnam during his 14-month tour in the U.S. Army from 1968-70. He is standing in front of the home to which he returned, at 679 South Ave. in Sycamore. Lundberg said Vietnam veterans have developed a strong identity as compared to veterans of previous wars because “I think we felt we were shunned and we could band within each other but we couldn’t band with other veterans.”

——

Being a veteran of a deeply unpopular war was not easy for Larry Lundberg.

“People were so vocal about it (the war) here in the States,” he said.

Lundberg, 59, was born and raised in Sycamore and was drafted into the U.S. Army on Dec. 2, 1968. He received artillery training in bases throughout America before heading to Oakland, Calif., to ship out to Vietnam on Mother's Day 1969.

He joined Charlie Battery, 6th Battalion, 29th Artillery Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army near An Khe in the central highlands of Vietnam. He arrived in Vietnam after the North Vietnamese Tet Offensive, a massive movement of troops eventually repelled by American and South Vietnamese forces - but not before it changed the beliefs of military officials that the war could be easily won.

Lundberg's job during the war was to complete “fire missions” in which soldiers would fire upon Viet Cong troops called in by forward positions. He was “on the guns” for 10 months before being transferred to a position as a driver working on ammunition resupply at Camp Radcliffe.

“A lot of the times, it was just boring,” Lundberg recalled. “Most of your day was spent eating breakfast and waiting for something to happen.”

He moved every two to three weeks and attempted to stay vigilant against “Sapper attacks,” which were what soldiers called Viet Cong fighters slipping in to their base and blowing up materiel. “Most of us never saw them,” he said.

By July 7, 1970, Lundberg's 14-month tour in Vietnam had come to a close. He boarded a plane at Cam Ranh Bay to Fort Lewis, Wash., and then took another plane to O'Hare International Airport in Chicago where he was greeted by his mother, two brothers, his sister-in-law, two nieces and his stepfather.

“I was awful glad to be here. The people who were important in my life were here to meet me,” he said of his return to America. “Coming home is probably the greatest feeling when you do it from a situation like that. That's what you live for the entire time you're in that situation. It's what you stay alive for.”

The hard part was readjusting to being a civilian after a year and a half of following orders.

“I was confused, didn't know where to go,” he said.

He enrolled at Kishwaukee College in Malta and joined the college's veterans club, which he says helped him because it put him in touch with his peers.

“My life kind of centers around these people and the fact that I'm a veteran,” he said, referring to the veterans organizations he is a member of, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and VietNow, a Vietnam War veterans association.

“Those Korea vets just wanted to come home and forget it. The two are so similar in so many ways and yet so different,” Lundberg said.

Lundberg feels veterans of previous wars didn't welcome Vietnam veterans in their organizations when the new vets returned from war.

“I think we felt we were shunned and we could band within each other but we couldn't band with other veterans,” Lundberg said.

He credits this experience as the reason why Vietnam veterans are so active in organizations that are now in charge of welcoming home veterans of the current conflicts.

Lundberg's recollection of any political protest against Vietnam veterans in the DeKalb County area was that the general public was kind to those who came home. None of his friends turned against him, he recalled.

One memory that resonates deeply for him is from the present day.

As he was about to fly back from a cruise in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a few uniformed members of the armed services came into the airport.

“Everyone in the airport stood up and cheered,” he said softly, his voice breaking. “We did not see that when we came home. We were just another passenger on the plane.”

Lundberg believes it's the right of the American public to disagree with war - just as it's the right of the American soldier to fight to protect those precepts. But he cautioned to not “tell the guy who has to fight that he is wrong because he is doing the job he is told to do.”

After finding out a woman with whom he works at UPS had returned from spending a year in Iraq, Lundberg stopped what he was doing and personally thanked her for her service and welcomed her home.

“I think that is a very important thing, to welcome you home,” he said.

Troy Walker

Operation Desert Storm — April 1991

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Sandwich’s Troy Walker, 38, holds a photograph taken while he was in basic training for the Marine Corps in San Diego, Calif., in October 1998. He is shown in front of the home in which he grew up at 127 E. Hall St. in Sandwich. A veteran of the Gulf War, Walker remembers that despite being welcomed home by a grateful nation, he came back to America a different person. “It changes you, no matter what your experience is. The person I was when I left did not come back home,” he said.

——

It was a feeling Troy Walker will never forget.

In April 1991, as he sat in a bus transporting the returning members of the Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division, from O'Hare International Airport to the reserve center, he saw people standing 10 deep along six miles of Grand Avenue in Waukegan.

At the airport, his parents, two brothers and his then-fiancée were there to greet him. A state police escort took the three platoons in four or five commercial buses all the way to their base in Waukegan, where hundreds of people waved flags and cheered as the buses drove by.

“I remember when I came back into town along Route 34, all the bank signs read ‘Welcome Home,'” Walker said of the drive back to his home in Sandwich. “It was just Š it was good.”

Walker, 38, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in October 1988 after graduating the previous spring from Sandwich High School. In November 1990, he was told to deploy to serve as a part of Operation Desert Shield, which had begun in August of that year after then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. He later served in Desert Storm.

Walker had a week to get his affairs in order until he shipped to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. By December, following a month of intense training, he received “chocolate chip cammies” - a camouflage uniform, indicating he would be traveling to the Middle East.

His unit shipped out on Cherry Point, S.C., and arrived in Saudi Arabia on New Year's Eve 1990. His company had three major responsibilities: to secure the airport at Al Jubail, to provide perimeter security for ammunition supply points and to secure a fuel bladder supply point. The reservists were in charge of a prisoner-of-war processing center 10 miles from the Kuwaiti border, a position close to the front lines.

“We could see it, we could hear it, we could feel it, but we weren't there,” Walker said.

Within the approximate three days that his unit was stationed at the prisoner-of-war camp, the reservists processed around 10,000 Iraqi prisoners, and the United States won a decisive victory in the ground war. Coalition forces numbering nearly 1 million soldiers had crushed the regional aspirations of Saddam for the time being. Walker's company was one of the first to redeploy, and within two weeks they were back at Camp Lejeune.

His time in the Persian Gulf changed him.

“When I went there I had just turned 21. My young adult life was just beginning,” he said. “I went over there just a boy. I came back a hardened person. I came back mean. It changes you, no matter what your experience is. The person I was when I left did not come back home.”

Walker has a sense of where his service fits into the spectrum of veterans of foreign wars in the last 70 years.

“World War II veterans had ticker-tape parades. Korea and Vietnam didn't get anything,” Walker said.

He considers the way that Vietnam veterans were treated to be a dark spot on the American people and because of that, those veterans have taken up a torch that was not lit for their cause.

“Our homecomings are the way that they are with thanks directly because of the Vietnam veteran,” Walker reasoned. “They're making sure the pain that they felt is not what happens today, and I give them a lot of credit for it.”

Walker's re-acclimation to society took time.

“I had a hard time being thanked about what I did. It's hard to swallow that you're a hero,” he said. “I went over there and I did my job. My country called on me to do a job, and I did that job.”

Walker now works as a firefighter paramedic in Lyons and in the Darien-Woodridge Fire Protection District. His advice to soldiers returning home from the current wars is to approach their lives the way they approached being in the service.

“When you get back home, take it one day at a time, just slowly adjust,” he said. “Don't shut people out. Recognize what you need to take care of.”

Darrick Wesson

Afghanistan — March 2004

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG DeKalb’s Darrick Wesson, 34, holds a photograph of himself and First Sgt. McGuire at a German base while he was a company commander in the 300th Adjutant General Postal Company of the U.S. Army Reserves in Afghanistan in 2004. He is standing in front of the home that he now shares with his wife, Holly. Wesson always wanted to be in the Army, and he remains a reserve officer while working in the DeKalb Police Department. Of his service to his nation, Wesson said, “I’m going to do it so someone else doesn’t have to.”

——

When Darrick Wesson was in Afghanistan in 2003-2004, the soldiers in his reserve unit had a positive perception of their mission in that country.

“Everyone thought what we were doing was the right thing to do,” he said. “It's our job to assist humanity - not just in the United States, but all over.”

Now that the war in Iraq has eclipsed Afghanistan as the primary theater for American troops, Wesson at times feels the conflict he served in has diminished in importance in the eyes of the public.

“Everybody says Iraq, but the Afghanistan war is like the forgotten war,” he said.

Wesson, 34, was born and raised in Leland and joined the U.S. Army at 19 after spending two years at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove.

“I always wanted to be in the Army,” said Wesson, now a U.S. Army Reserve officer and patrol officer for the DeKalb Police Department.

In May 1993, Wesson reported for basic training at Fort Still, Okla. He eventually landed at Fort Drum in New York where he spent three years. He was discharged in 1996 and attended Western Illinois University; after graduating in 1998, he joined the Army Reserve.

When the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred, Wesson knew it was a matter of time before he would be sent into the field.

“There was a lot of talk about being deployed,” he said. “We knew we would be deployed, but we just didn't know when.”

His second tour in the Army was in 2003-2004 in Afghanistan where he served as company commander in the 300th Adjutant General Postal Company of the Army Reserve and oversaw postal operations from Bagram Air Force Base. His primary responsibility included mail accountability - measuring mail weight coming in and going out and monitoring what was being brought in and sent away.

Wesson spent nine months and 22 days in Afghanistan. Upon his return in March 2004, he flew to New York and eventually ended up at his home base in Homewood. He was met by his friends and family, including his future wife, Holly Johnson. They caravanned to his parents' home in Leland.

“It was really good. A lot of foods you don't have (in Afghanistan),” Wesson recalled. “I had lost about 30 pounds over there and I gained it all back in a month.”

Johnson recalled the experience being somewhat surreal.

“It was just so foreign really to see his face, to hold his hand. It's like you start dating all over again,” she said.

“Coming back, Darrick was most excited to eat,” she added.

Wesson spent two weeks after his return away from his job, something his wife thought was beneficial for him.

“I think you definitely need that readjustment time. He needed that time to see everybody,” she said.

Since returning, Wesson has kept busy with the dual responsibilities of his job and the Army Reserve. As company commander, Wesson must not simply attend the once-monthly gatherings of the reservists, but must plan those events. But Wesson is committed to the idea of giving back.

“I'm going to do it so someone else doesn't have to,” he said.

Aaron Hoskinson

Operation Iraqi Freedom — October 2005

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG DeKalb's Aaron Hoskinson, 26, holds a photograph of himself aboard the U.S.S. Anzio while he was stationed in the Persian Gulf off of the coast of Iraq in the spring of 2003 in support of the opening stages of the war in Iraq while standing in front of the home at which he returned from active duty in 2005 at 927 Market Street. Hoskinson joined the Navy to earn money for college, and he is pragmatic about his experience volunteering in the armed forces and what it has gained for him, "It was a pretty good deal I had there, I'm reaping the benefits now," he said.

——

Aaron Hoskinson is happy he served his country.

“When I was over there, I was just a sailor,” the 26-year-old DeKalb resident said. “I did what I was told.”

He would like to see the troops return home eventually, but is glad people support the troops still at war.

“People are a lot more respectful because we were just doing our job,” he said.

Hoskinson was born in St. Charles but moved to DeKalb when he was in fifth grade. After graduating from DeKalb High School in 1999, he joined the U.S. Navy on Jan. 18, 2000, for a six-year commitment. He spent four years in Norfolk, Va., where he worked in electronics on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and USS Anzio.

While he was on tour in the Mediterranean Sea aboard the cruiser-class USS Anzio in March 2003, his ship was called into the Persian Gulf to support some of the initial battles of Operation Iraqi Freedom. From late March to late June, the Anzio was stationed 15 miles off the coast of Iraq. Hoskinson's job was in the C.O. Division, working with large guns and Close-in weapons systems, or CIWS.

“Nothing ever happened to us, luckily,” Hoskinson recalled of his time in the Persian Gulf. “I remember it was extremely hot out there.”

While he returned to the United States in July 2003, he didn't leave active service until Oct. 1, 2005. He packed his car and a U-Haul with his girlfriend, Kimberly Gaston, and drove from Virginia to DeKalb.

“I didn't think it would ever end,” he said with a smile of his six years in the Navy.

Each time he saw his family while still in the service, it was emotional. When he came home, it was more of the same.

“I was extremely happy,” he said of his return to civilian life. “I still have dreams that I'm still in there.”

Now, as a veteran of a foreign war, Hoskinson is entitled to the same rights and privileges all veterans who have served the U.S. in wartime can receive.

But perhaps the pragmatism that brought him into the service - trading years of service for education funding - sets him apart from veterans of previous wars or even the same war in which he fought.

“I guess I don't feel like it's a fraternity or anything,” he said of his connection to the VFW.

He acknowledges he was lucky not to have experienced the danger that some of those currently in the armed forces confront on an everyday basis. But, he noted, “When you're in the Persian Gulf, it's not comfortable there.”

The war has continued, but for Hoskinson, life has gone on in the direction that he projected - he is now a sophomore at Northern Illinois University, studying business. Since he has come home, some things about him have changed, he acknowledged.

“I think I'm a lot more respectful to people,” he said. “I'm never late for anything.”

Hidden Pain

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Kayte Hamel, 26, of DeKalb sits at her dining room table with four pieces of art her mother has purchased for her. Each one commemorates another year from the time her brother, Andrew, committed suicide in 2003. Hamel is speaking out about suicide because she wants to be able to reach others who have been affected by relatives or friends committing similar acts. “I’m willing to share my story in hopes that it will open up people’s eyes that it can happen to you,” Hamel said. “You will lead a very fulfilling life even with that loss.”

Sunday, November 11, 2007

NIU Honors Veterans

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Members of the Northern Illinois University Army ROTC Color Guard, in parade dress, stand before the start of the Veterans Day ceremony held across from Altgeld Hall on Friday afternoon. “The strength of America comes from the extraordinary commitment of citizens to serve,” said Lt. Col. Craig Engel, chairman of the Department of Military Science at NIU.


Honoring Service

By Eric Sumberg — Staff Photographer

Patriotism is more than just a bumper sticker, Staff Sgt. John Galan said Friday.

Galan, who served for seven years in the U.S. Army and is president of the Northern Illinois University Veterans Club, was one of several current and former members of the U.S. armed forces who spoke Friday as NIU commemorated the 69th observance of Veterans Day two days early.

The holiday, as designated in 1954 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is meant to honor all men and women who have served in the military. Prior to that, Nov. 11 had been known as Armistice Day and honored those who fought in World War I.

Under a bright morning sky, the NIU Army ROTC Color Guard crisply strode toward the flagpole at the corner of College Avenue and Castle Drive, carrying flags. Their instructor, Master Sgt. Howard Jemerson, stood at attention and saluted while the national anthem was sung by the approximately 65 people attending the service.

“We've actually been training hard and doing additional rehearsal to honor our veterans,” Jemerson said. “It's an honor to hold the colors. It represents every veteran, not just those of past wars.”

Jon Lehuta, a veteran of the U.S. Navy and faculty adviser of the NIU Veterans Club, spoke about the toll the current war is having on the soldiers, as well as the potential strain on Veterans Administration services for their eventual treatment.

“We have a huge number of soldiers who need help,” said Lehuta, adding that recently, statistics show one in three soldiers returning from the current war are in need of psychological help. He urged veterans and those who care about veterans affairs to let politicians know that ignoring the needs of American soldiers is not acceptable.

“Damn it, these kids deserve a lot better than what they're getting,” he said.

Brian Gerber, 32, of Rockford is a graduate student studying educational psychology and is also an active service member of the U.S. Army who has spent 27 months during two tours in Iraq. He felt his attendance at the ceremony was something he needed - and wanted - to do.

“It just means a lot,” Gerber said. “As an active-duty soldier, I feel it's an obligation and it's just something I like doing.”

In particular, Gerber cited the heroism of those soldiers who enlisted in the armed forces after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

“They're already warriors,” he said.

Andrew Brewer, 21, an NIU senior, was helping coordinate the presentation of the colors and the rifle squad for the ceremony. When he graduates in two years, he will be commissioned into the Illinois National Guard and will most likely be a field artillery officer. He is at NIU on a full tuition scholarship, courtesy of his service, and is happy with the decision he has made to serve.

“It really helps out, going to college, and it's definitely a fair bargain,” said Brewer.

Lt. Col. Craig Engel, the chair of the NIU Department of Military Service, spoke at length about the heroism of ordinary Americans who have changed the course of history by answering the call of duty.

“Our veterans have taken the dream of a free nation and turned it into a reality of a free nation,” Engel said.