By Rebecca Foster-Goodman
The American Legion is the nation’s largest wartime veterans service organization, with more than two million members across the United States and the globe. Neil Lynch and Tom Marks are members of the Lake Forest American Legion McKinlock Post 264, which just sponsored the 115th Lake Forest Day. They have served in the Vietnam War (Marks) and Gulf War (Lynch). They have both served as Commanders of the Post, and they and their colleagues have been integral in the design and installation of a monument for Veterans Park. The monument – which cost $400,000 and was funded by donations -- is slated to be placed in the park around Labor Day. A dedication is scheduled on Sunday, Sept. 24. The park, which sits at Deerpath and Green Bay Road, was redesigned by the City of Lake Forest and honors Lake Forest residents killed in action starting in World War I.
How did Veterans Park and the monument come to be?
Marks: For years, there has been talk that there should be a monument in town to celebrate the lives of Lake Foresters who were lost in battle. We have the flagpole in Market Square that honors World War I, and there is also a small memorial in front of the American Legion on McKinley Road. This has been a collaborative effort between the City of Lake Forest and American Legion McKinlock Post 264.
American Legion McKinlock Post 264 members David Lipinski, Ed Geraghty, and Tom Marks gather at their hall on McKinley Road. Lynch: About 10 years ago a conversation began about finding a location for a monument in Lake Forest. The City of Lake Forest began redesigning the new Veterans Park after acquiring the land through a land swap with Lake Forest Open Lands. The monument, which is being funded through donations to Post 264, will be the heart of the park.
Tell me about the monument.
Lynch: Gary Tillery of Rotblatt Armany in Highwood is the artist working on the monument. He is a Vietnam veteran and a 30-year resident of Lake Forest. He also created the sculpture for Chicago’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 2005. We are lucky to have someone so talented who is not only a veteran but also a resident of Lake Forest.
Marks: Standing eight feet tall, 16 feet long and one foot thick, it will represent all six branches of the U.S. military. The monument will include a sculpted bronze eagle against a backdrop of black granite and stainless-steel stars and stripes. There will be separate panels that will list the names of those killed in action during all conflicts since World War I.
How many Lake Foresters will be represented on the monument?
Lynch: The History Center of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff has been integral in this project. We also have people assisting from the high school that have found more names for us. We have lots of information about Vietnam War and after. However, a lot of the older information was lost in a fire during the 1950s. That’s one of the struggles we are facing. Originally, we only thought there were about 25 people from Lake Forest that died in wars since World War I. But as we continue to dig, we find more and more. We have the names of 80 soldiers for World War II. The remaining names are from the wars in Vietnam, Korea, and Iraq.
Marks: We have also discovered there were quite a few Lake Forest College students who lost their lives in battle, so the numbers have gone up even more. The decision was made to include the names of any person that lived in Lake Forest, including Lake Forest College students, and lost their life in battle. When you add up all of those killed in action, we have more than 100 names.
How do you teach kids about the importance of service?
Lynch: The two big holidays are Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Even though children usually have those days off from school, they need to be taught why those holidays are so important. On Veterans Day, we have an event at Lake Forest High School. The high school has always been very supportive of our veterans. We speak at the local elementary schools about being veterans and what that means. There are also opportunities for Boy Scouts (and other students) to put flags on veterans’ graves for Memorial Day. That certainly helps to drive home what it means to give the ultimate sacrifice for this country.
Marks: We at the American Legion try to promote citizenship. We have scholarships and writing contests, and we also visit schools to talk about the importance of service. Market Square has a Memorial Day celebration every year which is well attended. We do these things to remind our citizens of the importance of national service. When I play Taps on the bugle at a funeral, it’s an opportunity for a child to ask me questions. All of these patriotic events are opportunities for children to be exposed to veterans and ask questions. Tell me about the McKinlock Post.
Marks: The Lake Forest McKinlock Post was the 264th chapter formed in the state of Illinois. We have about 200 members.
Lynch: McKinlock Post 264 was formed in 1919 and named after George McKinlock, a Lake Forest soldier who was killed in action in World War I. He is believed to be the first Lake Forest soldier killed in World War I. Our post consists of veterans from World War II, Vietnam, Korea, and the Gulf Wars. We only have a handful of WWII and Korean veterans still living, with the majority of our members having served in Vietnam. Our post is located uptown Lake Forest at the corner of McKinley Road and Wisconsin Road.
To learn more about the Veterans Park monument, please visit the McKinlock Post 264 website at www.americanlegionlakeforest.org.