WASHINGTON – Billie Jo Beck of Tolono wanted to enlist in the military, but her application was turned down because she has asthma.
Beck, 27, was determined to follow in the footsteps of her grandfather, William Beck, who served in the Navy during World War II.
So Beck decided to join American Legion Post 24 to serve as part of its color guard about four years ago.
"When we found out about the dedication of the National World War II Memorial in Washington, we thought it would be cool for our color guard to get involved," she said.
Beck asked several World Ward II veterans from the Legion whether they would have any interest in going to the dedication.
When the response proved to be positive, Beck encouraged this week's trip to the dedication.
Fellow color guard member Bill Phalen of Monticello researched the names of area World War II veterans, and Beck spent hours on the telephone recruiting people to make the Washington trip, working with Happy Trails Tours of Fisher to plan the event and assisting with the arrangements.
"I received several calls from Billie Jo over the past several weeks. She was so respectful and enthusiastic that I was inspired to take part," said Ernie Furrow, 71, a World War II veteran from Champaign.
Beck and four other members of the Post 24 color guard – Phalen, Ceasar Peruse of Champaign, Marc Phillips of Champaign and Eric Olson of Champaign – were rewarded for their efforts with an opportunity to present the colors during a wreath-laying ceremony this weekend at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
Phalen said the event was emotional for him.
"Marines don't cry; I'm just sweating," he said.
Phalen said the color guard performs at funerals, Champaign-Urbana Fourth of July parades, Memorial Day services, Flag Day services, Illinois football and basketball games and other functions.
Beck said this weekend was very educational for her, after hearing the stories of the 16 World War II veterans making the trip.
"I went to school for 12 years, and I probably learned more about the war this weekend than during all that time," she said.
"I believe that each and every one of us will remember how we celebrated Memorial Day 2004," said Furrow. "Honoring the veterans of World War II is really special for us."
"My mind is a kaleidoscope of beautiful memories. This is a memory that will live forever."
Memorable meeting for one vet
WASHINGTON – One participant in this weekend's trip to Washington got to meet the star of "Saving Private Ryan" on Saturday.
While 50 of the 52 area participants on the tour of Washington watched the dedication ceremonies for the National World War II Memorial from the MCI Center, two of them were able to view the event at the National Mall.
Legion member Marty Zvonar of Monticello and World War II veteran Ramona Henricks of Cerro Gordo had tickets for the mall.
Zvonar, who has been active with the Boy Scouts for many years, was able to get a ticket from one of his former Eagle Scouts, Ryan Fisher of Virginia.
Zvonar collected 60 World War II Memorial pins at the American Legion tent to present to each member of the Post 24 tour.
Following the ceremony, Zvonar went to dinner at a nearby restaurant.
"Tom Hanks, his wife and children sat at a table not far from me," Zvonar said. "Everybody in the restaurant gave Tom Hanks a standing ovation for about 30 seconds.
"Before I left, I stopped at Hank's table and said, 'Mr. Hanks, thank you very much.' He shook my hand and said, 'Thank you, sir.'"
The tour visited the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial Sunday morning before heading home.
As the 16 World War II veterans posed for photos, they sang "The Marine Hymn," "The Caissons Go Rolling Along," "Anchors Away" and "Off You Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder."
Police officers were courteous throughout the weekend in Washington.
Officers from throughout the Northeast were on hand to assist with security.
One of the officers, a sergeant from New Jersey, used his squad car to drive tour director Chris Cender of Fisher and two flats of drinking water a half-block to the bus carrying the 16 World War II veterans.
"He turned his squad car lights on and made all the other buses pull over so we could bring water to the veterans," she said.
One of the participants on the tour, J.R. Stillwell of Champaign, served as the National Commander of the Sons of the American Legion from 1970 to 1971.
Stillwell's father, Clyde Stillwell, served in both World War I and World War II.
One of the World War II veterans on the trip, Bob Weaver, 84, of St. Joseph, was interviewed Saturday by a news crew from Fox News.
Kay Donley of Tuscola traveled on her own this weekend to honor her father, the late Paul Donley, who died in France on Aug. 16, 1944. Donley, 61, was only 1 - years old at the time of her father's death.
She said her knowledge of her father is limited to some photos, as well as a letter he wrote from a foxhole shortly before his death.
"I wanted to do something to honor the dad I never knew," Donley said. "I've lived my life thinking big girls don't cry, but when I placed my dad's photo in my shirt, I cried. I had 50-some years of tears I had to get out."
John Linville of Danville, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, traveled with his wife Susan to the memorial dedication.
Linville, 80, said he was wounded by a bursting shell on Jan. 13, 1945. "I can still feel it in my ankle," he said.
Linville said the World War II memorial is long overdue.
Area World War II veterans who watched the dedication on television at home said they were impressed with the ceremonies.
"It has been 59 years since VE Day," said Bill Kirby, 83, of Tolono. "It's nice that the efforts of World War II vets are being recognized."
"World War II was the last of the patriotic wars," said John Frothingham, 86 of Savoy, "It is important that people of all generations remember what we did."
John McHale, 84, of Ivesdale said, "My time in the service was rough, but having a permanent memorial to our efforts makes it all worthwhile."
"The great thing about World War II was all the cooperation and support we received from the people at home," said Ralph Newberry, 84, of Tolono. "I hope this memorial teaches the importance of working together for a worthy cause."
From the invasion of Poland in 1939 by Germany to the surrender of Japan in Tokyo in 1945, the war lasted 2,193 days. An average of 27,600 people died each day during that time, making World War II perhaps the most catastrophic event in human history.
Overall, 60 million people are estimated to have died in the war.
While 16.4 million Americans served during World War II, fewer than 5 million of them remain alive today, according to the Department of Defense, and about 1,100 of them die each day.
With such a decline of surviving WWII veterans, there will be a day when no one will have a personal memory of the war.
Many events planned to honor area veterans
East Central Illinois residents today will honor the military in Iraq, World War I veterans and all military who served in between.
Services and events planned include:
– Brocton: Robert Willoughby American Legion Post 977 with speaker retired Army Col. and Chaplain Jerry Martin of Columbia, S.C., a former pastor of the Brocton Christian Church; post home, 110 S. Graham St., Brocton; 11 a.m.; bring seating; park on Graham Street.
– Buckley: American Legion memorial service; St. John's/Woodland Cemetery, county roads 700 North and 500 East, southeast of Buckley; (at legion home, 313 S. Walnut, Buckley, in case of rain); 10:30 a.m.
– Cerro Gordo: American Legion Post 117 and auxiliary units cemetery services:
Ritchie Cemetery, 8:30 a.m.
Cross, Peck, West Frantz, East Frantz and LaPlace Cemeteries starting at 10:30 a.m.
Cerro Gordo Cemetery, 11 a.m. Potluck dinner at Cerro Gordo American Legion Post following ceremonies.
– Champaign: AMVETS memorial service with speaker Janice Pforr of Lincoln Challenge Academy; Sweet Adelines singing; color guards from AMVETS, VFW Post 5520 and American Legion Post 24; taps; and wreath presentations; Grandview Memorial Gardens, Rural Route 3, Champaign; 10:30 a.m.; followed by snacks at post home, 203 W. Hill, C.
Service sponsored by American Legion Post 24; with talk by Charles Zelinsky, senior vice-commander of the 19th district of the American Legion, pledge of allegiance, music from 1775 to 1789, songs, reading of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address; Mount Hope Cemetery, 611 E. Pennsylvania Ave., C; 2 p.m.
– Clinton: service with talk by Donald Gruber, Air Force veteran and teacher; band; color guard; rifle squad; Clinton VFW; and Crang-Bennett American Legion Post 103; Soldiers Plot at Civil War Memorial, east hill of Woodlawn Cemetery, northwest Clinton; 10 a.m.; bring seating
– Danville: Memorial service at Korean and Vietnam memorials, Hazel Street, 10 a.m.
Service and parade with pledge of allegiance, song, band, reading of Gettysburg Address and placing of wreaths; National Cemetery, Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System, 11 a.m.; organized by Joint Veterans Council, Vermilion County.
– Loda: Service at Pine Ridge Cemetery, Loda, with reading of deceased's names and talk by the Rev. Edgar Peters; 10 a.m.
Ceremony and dedication of a memorial stone with U.S. Rep Tim Johnson as speaker; post home, East Adams Street, Loda, after cemetery service; followed by refreshments.
– Mahomet: Service by American Legion Post 1015 at Riverside Cemetery, Illinois 47 just north of Interstate 74; 11 a.m.; bring seating; ice cream and cake at the post, 412 E. Main St., Mahomet, afterward.
– Ogden: Park with colors presented by Ogden American Legion; talk by the Rev. Jon Garlock, pastor of the Ogden Church of the Nazarene; 11 a.m.; in case of rain, service at Ogden United Methodist Church.
– Paxton: Parade beginning at Paxton-Buckley-Loda Junior High School at 10:30 a.m.; veterans encouraged to march or ride; vehicles provided.
Ceremony at Glen Cemetery with band, speakers and firing of historic canon, 11 a.m.
– Philo: American Legion 1171; ceremonies with 21-gun salute, taps and reading of names of deceased veterans:
St. Joseph's Cemetery, Bongard, 10 a.m.
Calvary Cemetery, 1 mile east of Philo, 10:30 a.m.
Locust Grove Cemetery, Illinois 130, Philo, 11 a.m.
– Rossville: American Legion Post 733 service; Rossville Cemetery; 11 a.m., followed by lunch at the post, Church and Thompson streets; in case of rain, service at post home.
– Saybrook: Service at Riverside Cemetery,10:30 a.m.
Followed by service at Township Cemetery.
– Sibley: Martin Suntken American Legion Post 244 service at Mount Hope Cemetery ; 11 a.m.
– Tuscola: VFW Post 10009 and Douglas County American Legion Post 27 service with speaker Daniel Allen, veteran of Desert Storm; Tuscola High School band; laying of wreaths at veterans' marker; Township Cemetery, Tuscola; 10 a.m.
– Urbana: Champaign County Veterans Association service. Speaker Judge Michael Jones and reading of names of veterans who died in 2003 and 2004; southeast of Champaign County Courthouse, 101 E. Main St., U; 1 p.m.
– WILL television showing of 'For One English Officer' documentary about WWII prisoners of war in France that included Kermit Harden of Urbana; Channel 12; 9 p.m.
Wapella will hold its Memorial Day service Sunday at Rucker Chapel, rural Wapella. A potluck dinner starts at 12:30 p.m. in the church basement.
The Rev. Don Walden of Champaign will talk at 2 p.m. A plaque dedicated to the late Ralph and Ruth Black Walden will be dedicated.
Members of Joe Williams American Legion Post 55, Farmer City, will conduct military rites in the Rucker chapel Cemetery at 3 p.m. June 6.
You can reach Tim Mitchell at (217) 351-5366 or by e-mail at email@example.com.