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Local

Soldiers alive in spirit

Roberto Stara, 4, traveled from Minnesota to Geneva with his family to honor his great-grandfather, Rafael Angel Diaz, who served in Vietnam. Sgt. Diaz’s name was added to the Kane County Veterans Memorial on Monday afternoon. (Rob Winner photo)
Roberto Stara, 4, traveled from Minnesota to Geneva with his family to honor his great-grandfather, Rafael Angel Diaz, who served in Vietnam. Sgt. Diaz’s name was added to the Kane County Veterans Memorial on Monday afternoon. (Rob Winner photo)

GENEVA – The late Sgt. Rafael Angel Diaz’s widow, daughter, two sons, and grandchildren he never met carried brightly colored roses and a Puerto Rican flag Monday to see his name among other veterans on a memorial. Diaz is among eight new names added to the Kane County Veterans Memorial, originally dedicated in November 2004. Now 843 names are listed on the memorial on the lawn of the Kane County Government Center in Geneva. Each soldier died serving his country and at one time lived in Kane County. During a Memorial Day ceremony, families of the veterans and others gathered in front of the memorial to remember the lives lost. In addition to the reading of the names, there was a rifle salute and a moment of silence. Brunilda Diaz sat with her family at the ceremony, and said afterward that it was a “proud” moment. “Memorial Day is always special,” she said. “Now it’s even more special.” Diaz died in 1970 – one day after his 30th birthday – while serving in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. Officials believe that one of his own men rigged a mine outside the hut where Diaz slept, killing him. Others in Diaz’s platoon believed that he was murdered because Diaz was assigned to drug rehabilitation and tracked down soldiers who traded drugs. They never found who was responsible, Brunilda Diaz said. The couple moved to Aurora from New York just before he left for Vietnam. At the time, their daughter was 10, and their sons were 8 and 6. Rafael Diaz was just added to the list because until now, the Veterans Commission could not verify that he made the move to Kane County, said John Carr of the Veterans Commission. A Hispanic committee discovered that Diaz was not on the list and notified the commission. His daughter, Liz, eventually provided proof of residency – a 37-year-old bill for shipping the family’s possessions from New York to their new home in Aurora. Liz Diaz said the ceremony was a “closing chapter” for her family, while her mother said the memorial would serve as a place for the family to go to remember her late husband. “Now my grandchildren and great-grandchildren can come here,” Brunilda Diaz said. Sisters Kellye Demian and Kenya Orland also attended the ceremony to honor their late uncle, Gary Harbin of Aurora. He died just after turning 20 while serving the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Demian and Orland said his death was a trying time for their family. The two recalled playful memories of their uncle. Demian said she could remember him throwing her in the air and catching her, while Orland said she remembered him playing with her for hours after giving her a jump rope. “It was the last time I saw him,” she said. Names added to memorial Eight Kane County veterans were added to the Veterans Memorial outside the government Center in Geneva. Before placing the names on the memorial, the Veterans Commission verifies that each man died while serving in the military, and also verifies he lived in Kane County. They newly-added veterans are: World War II veterans Leroy William Kernan, Arthur L. Markley and Orlyn L. Schuette; Vietnam veterans Gary Lee Harbin and Rafael Angel Diaz; and Cold War veterans Leroy William Brown, Kenneth D. Larkin and Robert William Pertiet.

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