Rep. Schneider recognizes Vietnam-era vets at special ceremony
Veterans and elected officials filled the meeting room of American Legion McKinlock Post 264 in Lake Forest for a Vietnam-era Veteran Commemoration Ceremony in the afternoon of Saturday, Feb. 29.
It was the seventh event of its kind hosted by U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Deerfield) in the 10th Congressional District of Illinois. Thirty-six veterans, mainly from Lake County, were registered to attend. It was a long overdue official thank you for their service during possibly the most controversial war in American history.
There were a number of local officials in attendance. They included Lake Forest Mayor George Pandaleon, Lake County Board Chair Sandy Hart, Deputy County Administrator Capt. James Hawkins, West Deerfield Township Trustee Paras Parekh and, of course, Schneider, who served as master of ceremony.
The event was part of a 13-year commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. Thanks to the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, the recognition of U.S. service men and women began on Memorial Day 2012 and will continue until Veterans Day 2025. The federal government has been partnering with local governments, private organizations and communities across America to hold various events.
Schneider called the turnout, which included family members of the veterans, “really remarkable,” and said, “It’s better late than never, and I’m glad we’re able to do this.”
He built a connection with the service men by saying that his 26-year-old son is in his fourth year in the Navy, stationed in San Diego, and he had visited him that past Monday.
“I’m inspired by your service,” he said.
“Some veterans carry physical scars, but many more carry emotional burdens,” Schneider continued. “No amount of time will ever fully heal those wounds. One of the greatest injustices was how these veterans were treated. This is a mistake we must never allow to happen again.”
He cited some gains in veterans’ assistance that have occurred within the last few years. Mental health treatment is now included in health care funding. Agent Orange exposure disability claims are finally being processed, and Blue Order Navy (those who were at sea during the Vietnam War) now get the benefits as well. He and a group of other representatives recently sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking for an expansion of healthcare coverage for other Agent Orange presumptive illnesses. And, finally, veterans’ homelessness has effectively been eliminated in Lake County, which very few counties nationally can claim, he said.
“If anyone has an issue with the federal government (with getting assistance from any agency), please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. That is what we are here for,” Schneider said of his office and staff.
Veterans who participated in the ceremony were Commander of the McKinlock American Legion Post Kevin Warnke, a naval veteran from the 1980s, who led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance. Naval veteran Angela Walker, a member of Highland Park’s American Legion post and president of the North Chicago Rotary Service, sang the National Anthem. She said she is called on all the time to sing it, which she loves to do. Bud Turner, who is chaplain of Lake Forest’s American Legion post and served in Vietnam, led the prayer. Veteran Jim Reynolds concluded the ceremony by playing “Taps” on bugle.
During the ceremony Schneider called up each veteran individually and presented them with a commemorative lapel pin and Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition. One widow and her grandsons accepted the items in memory of her late husband. One veteran from Hinsdale was a special attendee, noted a member of Schneider’s staff. He was previously a recipient of the Silver Star, the U.S. armed forces third highest personal decoration for valor in combat.
Also recognized was David Lipinski, senior vice commander for the Lake Forest American Legion post. He served in the navy from 1974 to 1981 on submarines in the Far East waters, and continued in the reserves until 2004.
The event was organized by Karen Davidman, casework and veteran affairs director for Brad Schneider. She has worked for the congressman since 2013 and has managed all seven of these ceremonies for Vietnam-era vets held in various Lake County communities. She was a teenager during the Vietnam War and was a pen pan to a couple of soldiers at that time. She has always felt it was unfair the way the miliary [sic] was treated upon their return from that war and said this is the role she was born to serve in.
Other important attendees at the event were staff from the Veterans Assistance Commission of Lake County. Superintendent Andrew Tangen and three others help promote these events to veterans. Their main work is to do veterans advocacy and represent the needs of veterans in the county. As Davidman explained, they help veterans fill out the paperwork to apply for benefits and navigate the government agencies involved.
Tangen noted that their organization is state mandated and county funded. Of 102 counties in Illinois, 52 have VACs.