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Service, appreciation and a 'whale of a price to pay' for freedom

ST. CHARLES – Bread, doughnuts and drinks were spread on a table Saturday morning at the home of the St. Charles Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5036.

At other tables, the veterans sat, enjoying the breakfast and talking about current events, upcoming activities and any other topic that came up. It’s something they gather to do at 7 a.m. every Saturday at the Veterans Center, at 311 N. Second St. in St. Charles.

Today is Veterans Day, so attendees were discussing their plans for the day. Many said they were planning for a full day, including the St. Charles ceremony this morning at the fire station and the annual concert tonight at St. Charles North High School. When asked, they also spoke of their experiences in war zones, highlights of their military careers and more.

Bob Pennington, an 89-year-old St. Charles Township resident, said he was pleased to be able to take part in Veterans Day ceremonies each year. Pennington, an Army veteran who served in World War II, said he has noticed “veterans are very much in style today.”

“It certainly is a wonderful feeling to know that people care,” Pennington said.

• • •

Pennington didn’t glorify his time spent in World War II. He talked of how fortunate he was that he was able to return. He spoke of several instances, in which he was only inches away from serious injury or death. He said he was hospitalized on three separate occasions during his time fighting in Europe, and he said the time in hospitals probably saved his life. He said the man who replaced him during one hospital stay ended up dying.

“The worst thing about being an infantryman is the constant apprehension,” Pennington said. “You are constantly under pressure.”

Ed Gorecki, a 94-year-old St. Charles resident, spoke of his time in World War II. As an Army veteran, he spoke of his time in Europe and receiving the Legion of Honor medal from France. He said others who helped liberate France would be eligible, and he said he hoped they would explore that. He said his unit saw a lot of action, and “we were constantly being used.” He said he spent most of a three-year period in combat.

Dean Busching, a 90-year-old St. Charles resident, talked of working as a meteorologist in World War II while serving in the Army Air Corps. He served in Asia. When he left the Army, he said he came home and worked for 41 years as a certified public accountant.

Angelo Di Liberti, an 87-year-old South Elgin resident, served in World War II. He said as a captain, he was designated as a military aide at President Eisenhower’s funeral, which was the highlight of his career. He spoke of a desire to have Pearl Harbor Day recognized as a national holiday. He said it was amazing that “we beat the two greatest professional military machines in the world.”

“All we were was a bunch of farmers and clerks,” Di Liberti said.

Di Liberti, who served in the U.S. Army, said he was a paratrooper, and he still enjoys “jumping out of airplanes.”

Dick Leckbee, who previously was the St. Charles VFW Post’s commander, was in the U.S. Army and served in Korea. He said he spent more than 17 months in a war zone, and he added during his time there, “I did and saw things I would like to forget.” He said many others feel the same way.

“There are a lot who don’t talk about it,” Leckbee said. “They let loose whatever they want.”

• • •

Leckbee works to publicize the weekly veteran gatherings, wanting to make clear veterans are welcome from 7 to 9 a.m. each Saturday at the Veterans Center. He spent more than three years as the commander and continues to be involved. There is a medical van that arrives at the location on the second Tuesday of each month, and he said veterans are welcome to have their blood pressure checked or get flu shots or attend to other medical needs they might have.

Many of those in attendance at the recent breakfast said they stay involved. Pennington said it’s essential younger veterans start joining such groups and embracing the opportunities that are there. Pennington pointed at the men in the room and mentioned many were older. He said he has great respect for the men who are fighting today.

Pennington credited everyone involved, not only soldiers, for their work in World War II. He said women were essential in the work they did while soldiers went off to fight, and he said he felt those who were doing the fighting were “poorly equipped when we went to World War II.” He said the war brought a tremendous loss of life.

“It helped us win the war, but it was a whale of a price to pay,” Pennington said. But, he said, he understood it was necessary. He said he read and heard students’ essays in a contest, and he said they understand it, too.

“Like the kids said, their lives would be a lot different if we had lost the war,” Pennington said.

Know more

• A Veterans Day program is set for 10:40 a.m. today at St. Charles Fire Station 1, 112 N. Riverside Ave., St. Charles. The ceremony will include an invocation, a salute to the flag and a 21-gun salute.

• Visit to view a photo list from the St. Charles VFW’s Saturday morning gathering.

• The St. Charles VFW offers coffee and doughnuts to veterans from 7 to 9 a.m. Saturdays at the Veterans Center, at 311 N. Second St. in St. Charles.

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