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Local News

York alumnus earns Legion of Merit for service as Army chaplain

ELMHURST – York High School graduate and former Elmhurst resident John Rasmussen was honored with the Legion or Merit after serving 26 years of his life as a chaplain in the U.S. Army.

“They go on maneuvers just like any other troops in the Army,” said his mother, Margaret Rasmussen, who lives in Lombard.

Lt. Col. John Rasmussen always wanted to be a pastor, but it wasn’t until 1987 that he decided to serve his country as an Army chaplain. He retired July 31, 2013 after 10 years of service with the Wisconsin Army National Guard, 16 years of active duty service, a Bronze Star and now the Legion of Merit among other decorations.

But what he remembers most is the service work he did in Iraq. He helped set up water treatment facilities for people, built schools and assisted with Iraq’s first democratic election in 2005.

“Those are the kinds of things I was really proud of,” John Rasmussen said.

His unit delivered paper ballots to polling places for the election. Instead of using a voter registration system, residents placed a finger on a pad of permanent purple ink after dropping their ballot.

“They were lining the streets holding up their purple fingers and cheering for joy,” said John Rasmussen of the men and women of all ages he remembers seeing that day.

His journey began as child when he would follow his pastor grandfather, for whom John was named, around wherever he went.

“My grandfather was always my hero,” he said.

He remembers standing in the church giving his own sermon to his grandfather when he was about 5 years old.

When John Rasmussen was ordained in 1978, his mother wasn’t in the least bit surprised about the career her son had chosen. His path to the military was much more quickly decided.

When John Rasmussen saw news coverage of the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, he saw a Marine who appeared to be mourning the loss of a comrade.

“I remember thinking, ‘Where’s the chaplain?’ ” John Rasmussen said.

That day he visited recruiting stations for all of the branches of the military, and a few years later he began his service with the Wisconsin National Guard.

“I am very proud of him of course,” Margaret Rasmussen said. “I was very pleased that he chose that field because I know he was happy with the work he was doing.”

While John Rasmussen witnessed firsthand the trauma and stress of military life in all sorts of venues – from Bosnia to Iraq and even domestic duty working on disaster relief – he knows all service men and women share at least one battle.

“The main stress is being separated from your loved ones,” John Rasmussen said.

For now, he’s enjoying spending time with his wife, Lenae. The two work side by side as pastors at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in El Paso, Texas.

“Serving my country and serving soldiers as a chaplain in the United States Army has been the highlight of my life ,other than being married to my wife and my kids,” John Rasmussen said.

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