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New museum exhibit marks Memorial Day

November 13, 2018

It was a Veterans Day to remember.

At the Kankakee County Museum, ceremonies organized by the Kankakee County Veterans Council drew at least 80 participants as the museum opened a new exhibit dedicated to the nation’s wars.

The exhibit has memorabilia, artwork and explanations of all of America’s wars since and including World War I. The exhibit, organized by curator Katey Moore, was funded by donations raised through a Hundred for History campaign. More than $6,000 was donated so far.

Vietnam veteran John Uranowski said the exhibit was “really beautiful and meaningful.” The exhibit includes uniforms, decorations and even a video that rotates photos of local veterans throughout the years.

During the Veterans Day ceremony, former State Rep. Lisa Dugan said it was a time to “remember and reflect” upon what veterans have done. The nation, she said, needs to stand with veterans.

Their sacrifice, she said, also must mark “freedom from homelessness” and “freedom from hunger” for Americans.

The keynote speaker was Karen Smietanski, the assistant superintendent of the Veterans Assistance Commission in Kankakee County. The daughter of a Navy veteran, she applied to work three times at the VAC before getting the job. She described helping veterans as work she loved.

She said veterans, both men and women, “wrote a blank check with their lives.” She added that we should not wait for Veterans Day to honor veterans. “They deserve thanks every day.”

Stan Olenjack, a Marine veteran from Vietnam, was the master of ceremonies for the event. He noted that the year was not only the centennial of the end of World War I, it also marked the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam.

The ceremony at the Kankakee County Museum was just one of many in the area. On Saturday, a memorial was erected in front of the Momence area home once owned by the late Col. James Kasler. Kasler received three Air Force Crosses for valor. The exhibit inside the museum includes Kasler’s uniform and medals.

Ceremonies were also held Sunday at the Illinois Veterans Home in Manteno, where Jack Ryan and Joe Serafini, both veterans of the wars in Iraq, spoke. Bradley and Bourbonnais held a joint service at the park adjacent to the Bradley American Legion Post.

One event is still upcoming. At 5 p.m. on Wednesday, a fundraising basketball game between veterans and faculty at Kankakee Community College will raise money for the college’s veterans’ programs. The cost us $5 for general admission and $2 for students.

Sunday’s museum event also featured the vocals of Tim Rehmer of St. George. Rehmer is a Vietnam-era veteran and a member of Harvey Ruel Post 1164, the American Legion Post in St. George.

He sang several patriotic anthems, including “God Bless America,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”

Rehmer also sang “Liberty,” an original song composed by his wife, Nan Havens. He has performed over the years at many Veterans Day and Memorial Day services.

“Our flag still flies for those who died for Liberty,” the song says.

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