Veterans of World War I receive medals, look back

August 31, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- Seventy old soldiers, most of whom already sport chests full of medals, have added a new one commemorating their part in World War I on the 75th anniversary of the end of the war.

Under a tent on a parade field at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Ill., Veterans Affairs Secretary Jesse Brown yesterday led a contingent of high-ranking admirals and generals in pinning the medals on the elderly veterans.

In the sweltering late-summer heat, a Navy band played a muted version of "Over There," the war's signature song, as many in the crowd of 800 were moved to tears.

"This could be our last national convention," said Winston Roche, a past national commander of the Veterans of World War I, the group that brought most of the veterans from across the country to Chicago this week. The organization began its five-day fTC national convention Sunday in Oak Brook.

"We've got approximately 9,000 members," Mr. Roche, 95, said of the veterans group, which lobbies for benefits and recognition for the 35,000 U.S. men and women still alive who served in the armed forces during the war.

"But about 87 percent of our members live either in hospitals or nursing homes now," Mr. Roche said. "It's harder and harder to muster the troops for these affairs."

Mr. Brown, in the principal speech, promised the assembled veterans, all of them in their 90s and 100s, that the nation would not forget what they did to win the war 75 years ago.

"You are old soldiers now," Mr. Brown told the veterans, several of whom came in uniforms they wore in the war, "but America will never allow the memory of what you did over there to just fade away."

The medals given out at the ceremony are an adaptation of the World War I Victory Medal given to the 7.4 million men and women who served in the war.

The new medal, however, bears the added inscription: "A Grateful Nation Remembers 1918-93."

It was commissioned and designed by the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation with the assistance of the U.S. Army Institute of Heraldry.

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