LINCOLN SQUARE — Re-enactors representing soldiers who fought in every major U.S. conflict participated Sunday in a Veterans Day ceremony at Rosehill Cemetery, the largest burial ground of Union soldiers in the Midwest.
Muskets were raised and cannons were fired to honor those who've defended their country and given their lives in its service.
"Patriotism, that's the big one," said Tom Fhauff, who's taken part in Civil War re-enactments for 30 years and has recruited family members to join the Union cause. "My grandson was born right into it."
Fhauff was one of five who manned an antique Civil War-era cannon during Sunday's proceedings, a memorial service made all the more significant given that the men are not only descendants of Union veterans but themselves served in Vietnam.
"Veterans Day has really been forgotten," said Ken Monroe, a member of the cannon crew. "It hit a low after Vietnam."
"When I first got out of the service, I was going to join the VFW," said Everett Nylund. "They told me, 'You lost your war. We don't want you.' "
Attitudes have gradually shifted in the 50 years since the start of the Vietnam conflict, particularly post-9/11.
"My sister was protesting on campus," Nylund said as he reflected on the 1960s. "Today, she'll call me up and say thanks."
Though none of the men saw combat — "Only something like one out of eight [soldiers] is on the front line," said Monroe — memories of their time in the military remain vivid.
Monroe was stationed in Alaska, listening in on Russian radio transmissions to track submarine movements. Fhauff, a dentist, put his skills to use at a Stateside base.
"I did take a tooth out of a general," Fhauff said. His assistant retrieved the extracted tooth, polished it and wore it around his neck.
As veterans continue to age — the last American combatant of World War I died in 2011 — re-enactors such as 75-year-old John Bigwood, who served in the Marines between the Korean and Vietnam wars, work with organizations such as ROTC to educate young people about U.S. military history and the role veterans have played.
"If you don't take the time to put some worth in what [veterans] did, what's wrong with us?"