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Marine who served in Vietnam continues to serves others

December 4, 2018

Stan Olenjack is a powerful voice for veterans in Illinois.

About six years ago, Olenjack, now a 72-year-old, learned the cost for a veteran to stay in an Illinois Veterans Home was being drastically raised. Veterans were upset.

The veterans group that works with officials in the state of Illinois spoke up. The Illinois Veterans Advisory Committee includes representatives of various veterans organizations, such as the Disabled American Veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.

Olenjack asked if the Marine Corps League had a representative on the group. Informed it did not, Olenjack immediately became the Marine Corps League statewide representative. Now, he has risen to be the state chair of the group.

It is only one of several veterans organizations where Olenjack, a Marine combat veteran of Vietnam, now is in a leadership role.

Today, Olenjack will be honored for his service to other veterans. He is one of the Bicentennial Honor 200 — 200 veterans chosen for the service by the Illinois Bicentennial and the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. The honored vets will be part of the state’s official birthday party at the United Center in Chicago.

Olenjack says the honor is about “selfless service,” and is “not about being a big war hero.”

But Olenjack was a true hero in Vietnam. Wounded multiple times, he received two Purple Hearts while serving on a Marine tank.

“If you can imagine the World Trade Center for a day. Vietnam was 365 days a year,” Olenjack said years ago at a public veterans forum. Olenjack, a retired cook from the dietary department at Shapiro Developmental Center, has a 100 percent disability rating largely based on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It took him until 1990 or 1991 to really get his life together, he said. “I was in denial.”

He says that while PTSD “never leaves you,” he is “proud to have served.” Now he looks for other ways of giving.

He has found them. Olenjack was one of the founders of Pause for Patriotism, a local celebration. It was held this year at the Greater Kankakee Airport, but for years it had been held at Shapiro. In the years at Shapiro, attendance was often as high as 7,000, Olenjack remembers.

Today, Olenjack serves area veterans in a variety of ways. He is the elected chairman of the Kankakee County Veterans Assistance Commission, which provides a wide variety of services, including Drug Court, for vets.

“We have a lot of veterans in need in Kankakee County,” Olenjack says.

He is the Marine Corps League representative at the Illinois Veterans Home at Manteno. He helps with bingo and blackjack and organized a Marine Corps birthday celebration.

He is the chair, too, of the Veterans Administration Volunteer Services for Illinois, working with volunteers and vets at the state’s six medical facilities and four veterans’ homes. A fifth Illinois home is about to be added in Oak Park.

He is the past commandant of the local Marine Corps League detachment. Olenjack can be seen participating in many veterans activities. He was the organizer of the recent Veterans Day service at the Kankakee County Museum. The museum opened a new veterans exhibit the same day.

Olenjack has been active in Marine Corps League activities, including color guard presentations and the Toys for Tots drive.

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