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Thursday, Aug. 18, 2005 04:46 pm

Bearing witness

Lieutenant governor quietly represents Illinois at soldier funerals

You probably don’t know this, but Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn has attended all but three of the 92 wakes and/or funerals held for Illinois servicemen and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. A top member of his staff attended the three Quinn missed because he was out of state.

His office contacts the families in advance to ask if it would be appropriate for Quinn to attend. All have said yes, and about half have even invited him to speak. Otherwise, he just sits quietly in the church or the funeral home, bearing witness. Just once has he been asked not to attend a funeral, but that particular family invited him to the wake.

Quinn has also worked hard on behalf of veterans and their families. He has helped organize a relief fund for families of active duty service personnel. He was instrumental in instituting a new state lottery game with an expected $10 million to $12 million in proceeds earmarked for veterans’ health care. He traveled to Iraq and stayed with some Illinois troops. He has pushed for a myriad number of bills to help veterans — too many to list here.

As I write this, members of a radical “church” in Kansas are planning to picket the East Peoria funeral of Marine Gunnery Sgt. Terry Ball, who died this month from severe injuries sustained in Iraq.

The hateful cult believes that God is killing our soldiers because America is too tolerant of homosexuals. The group travels all over the country attempting to disrupt funerals for fallen soldiers in order to push their own disgusting agenda.

Quinn saw this group up close in Anna, Ill., at the services for Army Specialist Brian M. Romines.

The police “handled it very well,” Quinn says. “There was some concern because there were threats of violence.”

The services for Brian Romines were attended by a large crowd, which showed, Quinn says, “how the people of Illinois feel about each and every one of their soldiers.”

I asked Quinn to describe the impact of attending 89 services for soldiers.

“It’s not about me,” Quinn says, “but it’s made me a better person.” Quinn maintains that it’s important to have someone representing the state of Illinois to “thank the family for giving us such a wonderful person.”

“In going to these funerals and memorial services you see how special these soldiers are, how focused on service they are,” he says. “They’re not all the same. They’re different people from different places. It’s remarkable, though, that they share this special characteristic of dedication and serving others.”

But Quinn says it was even more important to make sure that we do all we can for veterans after they return from their assignments.

“I think we should really salute them and do everything possible to help them back home.”

Terry Ball, the latest Illinois casualty of the war laid to rest, was a hero. He held his men back while he investigated a suspicious object in the road ahead. It turned out to be an improvised explosive device, which was detonated by insurgents. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

We should honor Sgt. Ball, but Quinn is very right that we also must remember those who survived and still need help. The thousands who are physically wounded and many more suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which Quinn says has become a terrible problem for Iraq veterans, should not be forgotten or ignored.

I don’t often say this about politicians, but in this instance I’m glad we have a guy like Quinn on the job here in Illinois.

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