The audience was not the largest, but the enthusiasm to honor past, present and future military veterans was great as a member of the Plano American Legion Post 395 spoke at the Oswego High School fourth annual Alumni Wall of Honor ceremony May 1.
Paula Hilderbrand, event organizer, introduced the Oswego A Capella Choir to lead the National Anthem, followed by Jim Hill, commander of the Plano American Legion, who was in command of the Legion Color Guard to present the colors to open and close the event.
Hilderbrand is a counselor at OHS and president of the school’s Interact Club, faculty adviser and coordinator of the Alumni Wall of Honor each year.
OHS Principal Mike Wayne said they sponsor the annual event to recognize and thank the current Oswego High School seniors who have committed to serving their country as soon as they graduate, as well as to honor those who are currently serving or who have served in the past.
Wayne introduced Hill, who served in the U.S. Marines from 1962-65 as a lance corporal, served in the U.S. Army Reserves 1976-86 as a master sergeant in the 85th Training Battalion and was senior non-commissioned officer in charge of the 5034th USAR School in 1984-86. He was named Plano Legion Post commander in 1995, and is now completing his third term as commander.
Hill commended Hilderbrand and OHS for the number of veterans’ photos they have displayed on the school’s Wall of Honor in just four years in the hallway outside the school gymnasium. Hill said all the veterans he knew did what they felt was right by serving their country, and noted that some of them prefer not to talk about those years.
He said his granddaughter told her mother she needed to take a book on WWII to school, so her mother called him. He found one that included information about Bill Cullerton, who was a radio, TV and newspaper reporter. Hill said the book recalled that Cullerton was shot in France by the Germans and left for dead. A French doctor found him, and helped take him into a house for medical treatment. With help from a Dutch boy, they dropped Cullerton from a second-story window into a horse-drawn wagon filled with horse manure, covered him, and took him to the American lines.
Hill said he met the Cullerton about five years ago when he spoke to Plano’s football team.
Hill recalled serving two tours with two different military groups – the Marine Corps and the Army Reserves, where he served as a drill sergeant. He then served as a drill sergeant at Fort Leonard in Missouri and Fort Knox in Kentucky.
Hill said he has been a substitute teacher at Plano, Somonauk and Sandwich, as well as Oswego for pre-K through 12th grade. He recalled telling his students about the Cold War, when they had to practice hiding under desks or curling into a ball in the hallways in case of an enemy attack.
“When the students laughed looking at the picture I told them it could have been me in those pictures,” he said, recalling doing that while in school.
Hill said anyone who served in any capacity in the military, even the Remington raiders (clerk-typists), cook, or in combat, was a veteran because they followed their orders.
“Those who follow the orders will never do any brig time,” he said, as advice to the OHS students who would enter active duty after graduation later this month.
Hill recalled being a non-achiever in grade school and being cracked on the knuckles with a ruler quite often by the nuns. He said he went to military radio school and told the instructors he could not do the work. They told him he was tested and if he did not do well, he would be court martialed for derelict of duty. He missed passing a test by half a point and was on restriction for several days, he noted. After he was discharged, he attended college and received a master’s degree, he said, but credited the military for getting him over the hump of being an underachiever.
Hill said he was in the Plano High School recently and saw some veterans’ photos on display.
“When I get back, I’m going to tell them our Legion will do whatever we can to help them do what you’ve done here,” he said, referring to Oswego Wall of Honor. “Definitely keep going with your Wall of Honor and keep talking to your veterans, young and old. I am proud to say thank you for allowing our Legion and our Honor Guard to participate and help you with this,” he said, adding, “Any time you have another need, or need assistance, Paula can contact us so we can give you a hand.”
He added that the Plano Legion members will be in Oswego in June helping the Oswego Legion with its work on the replica Vietnam Moving Wall that is expected to attract 150,000 to 200,000 spectators to the village to see the wall June 29 through July 3.
Dave Krahn, one of the sponsors of the wall, presented a video giving audience members an idea what is involved in the project. He said it is a joint project of the village of Oswego, Oswegoland Park District, School District 308, Oswego Chamber of Commerce and the Fox Valley Veterans Club.
The program ended with OHS choir member Tyler Baker, guitarist, playing “Ragged Old Flag.” He was assisted by OHS senior Travis Riley.