Tuesday, May 31, 2011
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Multiple events bring Mount Pulaski community together to honor veterans - Photo Album

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[May 31, 2011]  MOUNT PULASKI -- The Mount Pulaski Veterans Memorial is situated on a broad knoll, high above the thousands of gravesites in the beautiful Mount Pulaski Cemetery. Below the memorial are nearly 500 graves that have been decorated with our nation's flags. Last Saturday, Mount Pulaski Boy Scout Troop 122 assisted the Mount Pulaski American Legion Ryman-Fuiten Post 447 in placing 32-inch flags on each of these gravesites, which included past members of the Legion Women's Auxiliary Unit 447, Veterans of Foreign Wars Women's Auxiliary Unit 777 and departed volunteers of the Mount Pulaski Phoenix Fire Department.

HardwareThe Memorial Day guest speaker was Col. Paul A. Fanning, who lives with his wife, Lora, and their four children in nearby Chestnut. Fanning currently serves as joint logistics officer on the joint operations staff of the Illinois National Guard. His previous assignments included deputy commander to Task Force White Eagle, a Polish infantry brigade in Afghanistan; deputy chief of staff information management; commander of the 634th Brigade Support Battalion; and operation officer of the 66th Infantry Brigade. In addition to Afghanistan and Poland, he has also served overseas in Honduras, Italy, Iceland and Bulgaria.

Fanning holds a master's degree in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College, which is located at Carlisle Barracks in the Susquehanna Valley, Pa. Carlisle Barracks is one of our nation's oldest military installations, started in 1757, offering pioneering concepts in military training and innovative education measures in preparation for a changing world. Fanning informed us that Gen. George Washington was one of the primary movers in establishing Carlisle Barracks.

Fanning has been highly decorated, receiving many military awards and decorations. Among these are the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, NATO Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Bronze Star and a Polish Armed Forces Silver Medal. Many of these awards have been multiple decorations.

Fanning spoke of the many sacrifices that men and women of our nation's military forces -- and their families -- experience, which unfortunately include the ultimate sacrifice. He made reference to a soldier from Mattoon who recently paid this ultimate price for the defense of our country.

Fanning urged all of us to continue to respect and support our men and women in uniform. He was very impressed with the outpouring of reverence for the deceased veterans who helped preserve our nation's freedoms. The Memorial Day service at Mount Pulaski Cemetery was attended by one of the largest crowds in recent memory.

The prayers of invocation and benediction were given by Father Thomas Shaw. Following tradition, the Memorial Day minister comes from one of the local churches on a rotational basis. For the past eight years, Father Shaw has been the pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Mount Pulaski and St. Patrick's Church in nearby Elkhart. He has also served as chaplain to the Catholics and others at the men's and women's state correctional facilities in nearby Lincoln, which he visits on a weekly basis -- giving counsel to them and saying Mass for them.

Shaw will be leaving on June 15. His next assignment will be in Walnut, Ill., and he will also pastor the parish in nearby Ohio, Ill. Mount Pulaskians wish him well in his next assignments.

One of the speakers was Jim Fuhrer, mayor of Mount Pulaski. Fuhrer is a member of Mount Pulaski American Legion SAL Squadron 447. His father, Paul Fuhrer, is a World War II veteran and former commander of Ryman-Fuiten Post 447.

Every year, the presentation of flowers is conducted by all boys and girls in attendance, who come forward to lay flowers at the base of the Veterans Memorial. In addition, veterans conduct their laying of the wreaths at the base of the memorial. The wreaths are brought forward by members of the local American Legion Women's Auxiliary Unit 447, VFW Women's Auxiliary Unit 777, Legion Ryman-Fuiten Post 447, VFW Scroggin-Gee Post 777, SAL Squadron 447, the city of Mount Pulaski, Boy Scout Troop 122, Girl Scout Troop 1070 and Cub Scout Pack 122. Lastly, a wreath is brought forward by the Volunteer Phoenix Fire Department, which celebrated its 90th year in 2010.

Assisting with the presentation of flowers and the laying of the wreaths were Ralph Beccue and Joe Lucas, both former commanders of Legion Post 447. Lucas is a retired lieutenant colonel of the Illinois National Guard and currently serves as the chaplain at all of the cemetery and funeral home military rites for Mount Pulaski.


The honor guard and firing squad commander is Bob McCue, who is also a former commander of Post 447. Before him, Loren Meister spent many years as commander of this honor guard and firing squad. Meister was also a former commander of Post 447.

The honor guard and firing squad is made up of both military veteran posts in Mount Pulaski -- Legion Post 447 and VFW Post 777 -- along with SAL Squadron 447. Phil Bertoni is commander of Legion Post 447, Roger Bates is commander of VFW Post 777, and Michael Richner is commander of SAL Squadron 447.

The bugler for many years has been and is today Alan Roos, a former Post 447 commander. Tom Romer has also served as bugler and is another former Post 447 commander.

Post 447 military rites coordinator is Wally Kautz, who also serves as post adjutant. Gini Bertoni, a U.S. Navy veteran, is the Post 447 finance officer.

Next, thoughtful reflection was given to our locally deceased veterans -- those who lived in and around Mount Pulaski at some time in their lives -- who have died since the 2010 Memorial Day service. The honor guard and firing squad performed cemetery rites for many of these men and women.  

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Each year, SAL Squadron 447 conducts a student patriotic essay contest. This contest is successful because of the encouragement and support of the teachers. Two savings bonds, $100 for an elementary student and $200 for a high school student, are awarded by the squadron.

This year's elementary student winner is an eighth-grader graduating from Mount Pulaski Grade School, Julia Beccue, who is the daughter of Jeff and Jeannie Beccue of Mount Pulaski. The Mount Pulaski High School winner is Alexandra Conley, daughter of John and Lisa Conley of Mount Pulaski. Alexandra's patriotic essay was chosen to be read on Memorial Day. Since she was away with her family at a wedding, Kyle Pryzkopanski member of Boy Scout Troop 122, volunteered to read her essay, doing his "good turn" for her. 

Following the salute to our fallen comrades by the honor guard and firing squad, taps was played beautifully by Roos -- chilling many despite the 90-degree temperatures.

The honor guard then dismissed and re-formed at the local Vonderlieth Living Center. There, they honored 17 veterans who no longer can muster at their Memorial Day cemetery rites. Col. Fanning gave a short talk and Father Shaw a short prayer of benediction. Then, in single file, the honor guard along with Fanning, Shaw and Legion Commander Bertoni went to each veteran, shaking their hand and thanking them for their service to our country. 

The honor guard then re-formed at Steenbergen Cemetery, south of town, for the second Memorial Day service. In the chapel there, over 150 were in audience. The Mount Pulaski school band played the national anthem for the flag-raising, which was performed by VFW Post 777 Commander Bates. Joe Lucas, president of the Steenbergen Cemetery Association, was master of ceremonies. In addition to the prayers by Shaw and the talk by Fanning, patriotic music was played on the organ by Laura Lee, accompanying singer Jennifer Wernsing. Bertoni read the list of local veterans who had died since last Memorial Day. As each deceased veteran's name was read, his or her branch of service was noted. Outside, the honor guard and firing squad once again conducted the salute to fallen comrades, followed by taps by Roos.  


It was announced at the end of both cemetery services that, this year, the town of Mount Pulaski is celebrating its 175th anniversary (1836-2011). In celebration of the 175th, there was a free luncheon at the Legion Post 447 Hall. This luncheon was co-sponsored by the Mount Pulaski 175th Anniversary Committee, Legion Post 447, Women's Auxiliary Unit 447 and SAL Squadron 447. Over 175 meals were served. Greg Maus, leader of Boy Scout Troop 122, said grace for the first sitting, and Father Shaw said grace for the second sitting.  

Following the luncheon, the Springfield Vintage Brass Band performed at the Mount Pulaski Courthouse bandstand. The band was expertly led by Todd Cranson, a professor at the University of Illinois Springfield, who explained each piece and its place in our mid- to late 1800s American music repertoire, including several Civil War-era pieces. Cranson made mention of Benjamin Henry Grierson, who taught music and conducted a brass band in Jacksonville before the Civil War. Cranson had his Vintage Brass band play one of Grierson's brass band pieces.

Grierson's collection, some of which is housed in the Illinois State Archives, is the earliest collection of brass band music in the United States, circa 1840. The Grierson brass band performed in Springfield during Abraham Lincoln's tenure in the capital city.

Interestingly, it was in Jacksonville that Grierson was hand-picked by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to lead an important military mission, which would become known as Grierson's Raid. This mission encompassed 600 miles in just 16 days -- a daring 1863 expedition through Confederate-held territory that severed enemy communication lines between Vicksburg, Miss., and Confederate commanders in the Eastern Theater. Grierson then became a career officer in the U.S. Army, becoming a cavalry general in the volunteer Union Army during the remainder of the Civil War. He later led troops in the American Old West -- organizing and leading the Buffalo Soldiers of the U.S. 10th Cavalry Regiment from 1866 to 1888.




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