First officially observed in 1868, Memorial Day honors the brave men and women that made the ultimate sacrifice while in the line of duty. Today, this somber day of remembrance is held in the last week of May, and for many, it kicks off the summer season, but Memorial Day is more than just a long weekend. For many people, it is a day of grieving and heavy emotions. To keep the eternal remembrance of fallen service men and women alive, the Lake County Parks and Recreations Department held its 42nd annual Memorial Day service at Stoney Run County Park.
Stoney Run County Park in Hebron is home to one of the nation's earliest Vietnam Veteran memorials. In 1973, the Baum family lost their son in the Vietnam War. To honor their son and all of the 261 men from Lake County who lost their lives in the conflict, the Baum family placed three large boulders around the flagpole at Stoney Run. This became the site of the memorial, and it has grown bigger to this day.
For the members of the Lake County Parks Department, putting on this yearly service is a great honor.
“This is our 42nd year hosting this service, and we feel honored that we can do this,” said Dawn Robertson, Special Event Coordinator for Lake County Parks. “This memorial started with those three stones and, through the years and wonderful donations by our citizens, we have been able to bring it to where it is today. It’s the least we could do to honor our fallen heroes.”
Robertson, a veteran herself, served as the master of ceremonies for the service and got things kicked off. Following her, Sgt. Russell Gibson of the American Legion 1st District, and combat medic from 1992-2000, gave the invocation.
“This is one of the holidays that touches me a lot,” said Sgt. Gibson. “When I was in Desert Storm in my battalion, we lost five men. It is just unbelievable knowing that those men gave their lives and made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and our freedom. I wish more people would celebrate their lives, their accomplishments, and everything they did and not just think of it as a three-day weekend.”
Following the invocation, the Wolffgang Choir from Hobart High School sang the national anthem while Scout Troops 48B and 48G presented the colors.
United States Representatives Frank Mrvan and Mark Takano from California were in attendance for the service. Both spoke about what Memorial Day means to them and how they both honor veterans in Congress.
“Every day, we try to pass laws that honor these great men and women,” said Mrvan. “More importantly, as a grateful nation, we want to make sure veterans get the healthcare and mental health care that veterans were promised. We want to make sure we are doing all we can for veterans facing PTSD or suicide.”
Takano represents California's 41st Congressional District and was on a tour of the Midwest seeing different Veterans Affairs facilities, making sure veterans are getting the services they deserve. Takano was impressed with the Lake County Women’s Service Memorial, a monument added to Stoney Run in 2021.
“I’m very moved that you have chosen to recognize the women veterans,” said Takano. “Soon, women will make up one out of every five veterans in America, yet women veterans have faced tremendous challenges in the military.”
Takano went on the address that every veteran, no matter their background, race, sex, sexual orientation, or religion, should be honored and remembered on Memorial Day.
The service was wrapped up by Lake County Parks CEO Jim Basala. Basala took time to thank his incredible staff for all of their hard work making this service possible. He also urged people to visit Stoney Run in the evening right before sunset.
“Come to Stoney Run in the evening, right before official sunset, and ‘Taps’ will play automatically,” said Basala. “We use a device that automatically adjusts every day to whatever sunset is, and it plays ‘Taps’ throughout the park. It is a very moving experience.”
Finally to end the service Sgt. Gibson gave the benediction, and it perfectly summed up the feelings of the day.
“Thank you for bringing us together at this Memorial Day celebration to balance the debt we owe to the men and women of the United States military who have guarded this county with their lives. They fought on land and at sea and in the air, always understanding that they may not come back from their mission and accepting that as part of their job. We thank them for their sacrifice and promise we’ll carry on their legacy to ensure they did not die in vain.”
To learn more about the Lake County Parks and Recreations Department, please visit their website.