ROCHELLE — Memorial Day is something different for everyone. For veterans who have served in our military and have lost comrades, though, it means more than the kickoff of summer or simply a day off.
Monday in the “Hub City” there was a small parade that stepped off from city hall followed by a ceremony at Lawnridge Cemetery, which included a statue dedication. This was to honor all of the soldiers, men and women, who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our nation to ensure our freedom.
It took many years, but Rochelle does have a Veteran’s memorial at the cemetery honoring all four branches of the U.S. military — Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines — as well as the United States Coast Guard and the Merchant Marines.
Each branch is represented by a tall, granite structure with the proper emblem on each as well as its flag flying behind it. The 829 pavers making up the footing of the memorial have the names of various local people, veterans and otherwise.
In addition, there are benches all around the memorial for visitors to enjoy and reflect on the reverence of the memorial.
The memorial was the vision of Wendell “Pal” Colwill who was on hand at Monday’s dedication of the bronze statue designed and created by local artist Fran Volz. It is the first and thus far the only bronze statue in Rochelle.
Volz explained that his original design was a more traditional, nostalgic drawing with a soldier in a World War II-era uniform. The committee, though, suggested the statue reflect the modern soldier as well so the uniform, including the helmet, was changed to something closer to an Operation Desert Storm uniform.
Volz said a Desert Storm veteran gave him his gear, including his boots, so he could get the details absolutely correct.
The figure, a man kneeling and facing the monument was installed Oct. 6, 2020, and weighs 600 pounds. The memorial is always open to the public.
Killed in action
Also at the ceremony, Lydia Roberts, of the Daughters of the American Revolution, read off the names of 22 soldiers killed in action and whose bricks are engraved as such as the memorial. Roberts explained that they may be buried locally or elsewhere, but are connected to Rochelle through family and friends.
“Twenty-two of the 829 bricks in this memorial are specifically marked as ‘killed in action,’ although I’m sure there are others who lost their lives in combat whose bricks are not marked in that way. Each one's story is known mostly to family and friends,” Roberts said before listing the names.
World War I: Harry Altenburg.
World War II : Eugene Bumpus, Robert Cote, Donald Gentry, Glen Haws, Ralph Haws, Edward Heron, Robert Landaker, Stanley Larson, Merle Meisener and Edward V. Werger.
Korean Conflict: Billy Davis, Charles Heron and Truman D. Trowbridge, Jr.
Vietnam War : Arnold Johnson, Dennis Kramer, George Norris and Richard Wilkerson.
Operation Desert Storm: Tom F. Koritz.
Operation Enduring Freedom — War in Iraq and Afghanistan: Ryan T. Baker, George R. Oburn, Jr. and Jared Stanker.
The ceremony concluded with the local Boy Scouts troop placing a white carnation for each local veteran who passed away since Memorial Day 2020.
Each spring, additional bricks in the Rochelle Veterans War Memorial are engraved in time for Memorial Day. Orders for brick engraving are collected throughout the year and the engraver is hired to perform the work on a dry day throughout the year.
For those interested in having a brick engraved on behalf of a veteran for next year, order forms can be obtained at the Rochelle VFW or on the City of Rochelle website at cityofrochelle.net. Orders, along with a check, can be dropped off at the VFW or mailed to P.O. Box 344, Rochelle, IL 61068.
If you’re a local veteran who would like to get involved, you can contact the VFW Post 3878 at (815) 562-3878 or the American Legion Post 403 through its Facebook page.