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Thursday, Dec. 9, 2004 04:21 pm


Visitors made rubbings of memorial bricks at the memorial.
Photo by Job Conger

Clouds and rain gave way to bright sunshine during Saturday's dedication of the World War II Illinois Veterans Memorial at Oak Ridge Cemetery. More than 3,500 people came to honor the men and women who defeated the Axis powers.

Visitors were greeted by 15 volunteers in authentic WWII uniforms handing out souvenir programs.

Among the first to be handed a program was Howard Hennessey, who lost a brother and a cousin in the conflict. He was enthusiastic about the memorial: "This is outstanding -- way overdue. This is the generation that sacrificed everything."

The ceremony brought many area veterans -- most well into their seventies and eighties -- together, perhaps for the last time.

Charles Johnson was drafted in Decatur. "I went to war in Africa with two neighbors, all of us in the 3rd Division. One lived on the corner, and one lived right next door to me, and I saw both of them get killed. I've never been able to tell their parents what happened. I just say they died fighting the Germans."

Harry Peterson was squadron navigator with the 7th Air Force in the Pacific. He attended the dedication ceremony with four generations of his family. Granddaughter Kristin Stiefvater said that her grandfather-in-law also served in the war. And though neither of them knows it yet, she said, both will be given granite memorial bricks for Christmas.

Veteran Roy Cordts has not been so healthy in recent years. He's been confined to his house for the past 18 months, but he and his wife made it to the memorial dedication.

Springfieldian Glenn Kniss was 34 years old, with a wife and kid, when he entered the service. In his 90s today, Kniss was among the vets acknowledged during the dedication speeches for his service.

Former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar delivered the keynote address, and after the speeches, two vintage aircraft -- a P-51 Mustang piloted by Mike George and a T-28 trainer piloted by Ralph Glasser, M.D. -- flew low over the crowd.

The board that oversees the memorial is still seeking Illinois veterans of the war so that their stories may be shared. For more information about the World War II Illinois Veterans Memorial, visit www.springfield-il.com/ww2Memorial or call 866-992-4145.

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