WOODSTOCK – The first Illinois county to be recognized for honoring Purple Heart recipients celebrated Purple Heart Day in style Thursday.
More than 200 people, many of them prior-service or active military, attended the unveiling of a large, double-sided granite monument at the main entrance to the McHenry County Courthouse. The monument honors the nearly 2 million American service members who have received the medal for being wounded or killed in combat.
More than a few audience members have the medal that the military likes to say is eligible to all, but desired by none. Among them was Huntley native Jeremiah Homuth, who lost his right arm to a rocket-propelled grenade attack in 2005 while serving in Afghanistan with the Army's 10th Mountain Division.
"I think this is a really nice gesture to Purple Heart recipients, past and present," Homuth said.
The hour-long ceremony included guest speakers including a Medal of Honor recipient and aircraft fly-bys. Although all four branches of service were represented Thursday, the monument and the ceremony were a Marine operation, and the few and the proud made darned sure that fact was known.
Marine veteran Richard Young and his wife, Monica, spearheaded getting the monument built and getting McHenry County recognized as the state's first Purple Heart County, which allows it to fly a special commemorative flag authorized under the Illinois Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Young and several other veterans raised the flag on one of the three new flagpoles that were erected as part of the monument. The retired sheriff's deputy never received the medal, but sought to honor those who have, including his father and his uncles, all of whom were wounded while serving in the Army in the Pacific Theater of World War II.
The Purple Heart is the oldest American military medal still awarded, and was originally conceived as a badge for military merit by Gen. George Washington. It is also the only military decoration for valor that has no requirement of a recommendation – any soldier, sailor, airman or Marine is entitled to it if he or she is wounded or killed in action against an enemy.
It's a fraternity that Dan Finn, state commander of the Purple Heart order, does not want to see grow. Behind the podium was a wall of honor with pictures of the 275 soldiers from Illinois who have been killed in action since the Sept. 11 attacks.
"We are the one veterans organization that wants to go out of business," Finn told the audience.
Finn was one of several guest speakers. State Sen. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry, talked about her father, a Marine veteran who was wounded in the Pacific in World War II and, like many from what is called the Greatest Generation, kept quiet about his experiences. Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, called the monument "exactly the kind of event that makes us proud to call McHenry County home."
But the most poignant speech came at the end from keynote speaker Allen Lynch, of Gurnee. The veteran of the Army's 1st Cavalry Division received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor, for rescuing and defending three wounded soldiers in a 1967 battle in Vietnam.
He challenged the audience and its veterans to make sure Americans, especially children, understand the high cost of freedom.
"It's up to us, we who served and those who presently serve, to make sure this country is worth the sacrifices the men and women who earned the Purple Heart made," Lynch said.
What it means
Veterans dedicated a new granite monument to Purple Heart recipients at the main entrance to the McHenry County Courthouse, 2200 N. Seminary Ave., Woodstock.