Like other towns across the country, Tinley Park will hold a Veterans Day ceremony Sunday to honor the men and women from the community who have served in the military.
And while Sunday's event also will , the Tinley Park ceremony stands out for another reason: It shows yet again the strong, long-standing bond the village has developed with its veterans.
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"Tinley Park is very veterans-friendly," said American Legion Post 615 Cmdr. Bob Shaffner, a U.S. Army veteran who fought in Vietnam. "Just about everything we need they help us out. … They help us out as much as they can."
In some ways, this bond started when Tinley Park established its Veterans Commission in the 1974, the first community in Illinois to do so, said Rea, who characterized the plaza dedication in his name as "an extraordinary honor." Over the years, the commission has worked not only to honor Tinley's veterans but also as an advocate, such as helping to secure health benefits for them and their families as they transitioned home.
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For their part, the members of the American Legion, along with those of Bremen VFW Post 2791, are dedicated to community service. The American Legion has set up awards for police officer and firefighter of the year in the village, Shaffner said. The VFW does outreach with Tinley schools and has set up scholarships, said Cmdr. Bill Connor, who served with the Army's 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam, where he earned the Purple Heart.
"The American Legion isn't just a lot of old veterans, sitting around having toddies and spinning old war stories," Shaffner said. "We do a lot for the community."
Lately, however, these organizations have not been doing as much as they would like. Finances have been tight for both groups, according to Shaffner and Connor, a common refrain for veterans organizations across the country.
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A struggle the local groups don't share with their national counterparts is dwindling membership. Post 2791 has been keeping its numbers steady at 887 members, with 654 being lifetime members, Connor said. Legion Post 165 has seen a slow increase and is hovering around 450 to 460 members, Shaffner said.
But it's still a struggle to recruit new members, especially as more and more veterans of the World War II and Korean War eras pass away.
"I didn't join the Legion immediately," Shaffner said, adding that some younger veterans need to adjust to life back home. "Eventually, they come around."
"You have to remember that these younger guys aren't going to want to come down to the bar and hang out and talk with a bunch of old guys," Connor said, laughing. "They want to go where the women are. … Hopefully, these younger men will take on a role in the VFW. Its' a way of life, not so much a membership. You have camaraderie here."
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It's that camaraderie among veterans that Shaffner is looking forward to at the Veterans Day ceremony and Veterans Plaza dedication. He and Connor say the plaza is an excellent addition to the village. It's become another brick in the foundation of the bond between Tinley Park and its veterans.
"I think it's a good thing," Connor said. "I think the plaza is a good start to recognize [veterans]."
Veterans Day Ceremony
When: 10 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 11. The dedication of Veterans Plaza begins at 11:15 a.m.
Where: 80th Avenue Metra Station
YOUR TURN: Is there a veteran that you want to honor? Tell us who in the comments section and share photos in the media gallery. On this Veterans Day, pay tribute to the men and women closest to you who have served their country.
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