CHICAGO (CBS) — A ceremony and small parade at Hines VA Hospital in the western suburbs on Friday paid tribute to men and women who have served in the military for Veterans Day weekend.
Several veterans who served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom were recognized with certificates. The ceremony also marked the 242nd birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Hines director Dr. Steven Braverman, who retired from the Army a year ago, said he was surprised to find when he arrived the hospital that there hadn’t been any Veterans Day ceremonies in years past. He said today was the “first annual” Veterans Day ceremony at Hines.
“Make no mistake. This uniform is not a costume. It’s a symbol of honor. It’s a symbol of courage. It’s a symbol of duty. It’s a symbol of selfless service,” he said. “We’re here today to honor all of you, all of our veterans, who wore the cloth of the nation, because, for you all it was the right thing to do.”
In attendance at the ceremony on a motorized scooter was one of the oldest veterans in America.
Peter Poulos will turn 101 next month. He was in the Army from 1942 to 1946, and saw combat throughout the South Pacific.
“We were going to Japan, on the invasion, but it was postponed for two days, and that’s when they dropped the bomb, but we had to be the first ones to go in there to disarm them,” he said.
Poulos said he was in Tokyo Bay when Japan surrendered to the Allied Forces on board the USS Missouri.
He recalled one battle in the Philippines when a tank in front of him was hit.
“This guy jumped out of the turret, and his clothes was on fire. I had a jacket on me, I don’t know if it was a poncho. I just threw it at him, and that’s it,” he said.
Fast forward to a couple years after the war, on a very hot summer day, when Poulos got off a streetcar around Irving Park Road and Kedzie Avenue, and walked into a confectionary store for a cold drink. It turned out the man behind the counter was the tank crewman Poulos had saved in Manila. Poulos ended up marrying the guy’s sister, Julie, and they were married for 50 years.
Also at the ceremony was 91-year old Army Air Corps veteran Donald Carter.
He said, for him, November 11 is still Armistice Day, the holiday commemorating the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918. Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.
“Every day is Veterans Day; every day,” Carter said.
Gov. Bruce Rauner attended the ceremony, and greeted many of the veterans in the crowd.
“America is the greatest nation on earth, because of the service of our veterans. Let’s hear it for our veterans; our true American heroes,” he said.