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Final Veterans Day For Bensenville Cemetery

St. Johannes Ceremony

The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War gathers for a Veterans Day ceremony at St. Johannes Cemetery in Bensenville. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 11/11/10 11:20 a.m.

BENSENVILLE (CBS/WBBM) — Some of the people buried in St. Johannes Cemetery in Bensenville are soldiers remembered for giving their lives in service of their country.

But now, their graves are in the path of the expansion of O’Hare International Airport. The likelihood that the graves will be moved is adding a new storyline to this Veterans Day in the west suburban cemetery.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Regine Schlesinger Reports

 
On Thursday, a bugler played taps not only for those buried there but, for the cemetery itself. At this time next year, the cemetery might no longer be there.

From a distance, the small gathering looked like a solemn ceremony at an ordinary cemetery. But turn and look toward the fence, and you’ll find runways with planes taxiing.

Soon, there won’t be a fence separating the cemetery from the airport. The City of Chicago won its court fight to use the land for the O’Hare Modernization Project, and the bodies must be moved.

The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War were honoring some veterans of the conflict that are buried at St. Johannes.

One such veteran is the Rev. William Boerner, the fourth pastor of St. John’s United Church of Christ in Bensenville, who fought at Gettysburg and was wounded in the battle.

Pastor Boerner died in 1889 and was buried at St. Johannes, long before there was any such thing as an airport. But the Civil War group still holds a ceremony for Boerner and the other veterans who were laid to rest at St. Johannes over the past 150 years.

“We have three of our Civil War brothers laid to rest here, and we want to pay tribute not just to them, but all of those who served and made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Steve Westlake of Willow Springs, a member of the group and a veteran himself.

They paid tribute in the small ceremony, using a bugle, prayers and song.

“You know, you do a certain number of things in your lifetime that are worthwhile. I haven’t got a whole lot of things on my list,” said Sons of the Union Veterans Chaplain Rev. Jerome Kowalski. “This is one of them that was worthwhile, because of the honor that these veterans received, possibly for the last time.”

The sons of union veterans don’t take a public stand on whether the graves should be forcibly moved to make way for the airport.

“This is not a political statement or a protest of any kind. It’s simply to honor the veterans,” Kowalski said.

But not all the veterans who came to the cemetery were taking a neutral stance. Chuck Campos believes moving the remains amounts to desecration.

“It’s a shame that money talks, and it’s interfering with this cemetery here, both where the veterans are buried here and the non-veterans – that somebody likes to take over and destroy a so-called landmark,” Campos said.

Some 20 veterans from the Civil through Korean wars are buried at St. Johannes.

The Illinois Supreme Court still must rule before any demolition goes ahead at the cemetery. But many believe it’s just a matter of time until O’Hare expansion plows ahead.

CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli and Newsradio 780’s Regine Schlesinger contributed to this report.