Nearly seven decades after he flew combat missions over Europe during World War II, Robert C. Buckley stood in his dress blue Air Force uniform on Wacker Drive Saturday morning, soaking up the respect and gratitude offered by hundreds of people who attended a Veterans Day ceremony on the city’s riverfront.
“I thought it was a beautiful ceremony,” said Buckley, 89, of Arlington Heights, who retired from the Air Force as a colonel. “Chicago has always been like this with the military. They’ve always held us up for our best and shown a lot of gratefulness for our service.”
Buckley was one of dozens of veterans who attended the ceremony at Chicago’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza, along the riverwalk just west of Wabash Avenue.
Veterans in dress uniforms and wearing baseball caps and jackets representing their branches of the military sat in chairs on the plaza, while others mixed in with civilians seated on terraced steps leading up to the street.
Several firefighters and pedestrians looked down from a sidewalk on Wacker Drive as a military band played and a group of Marines presented the colors.
A few moments later, the crowd gave a standing ovation to Thomas Johnson, a Marine whose father, Chicago fire Capt. Herbert “Herbie” Johnson, died Nov. 2 while fighting a fire in the Gage Park neighborhood. Johnson, wearing his dress uniform, stood to acknowledge the crowd.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel addressed the crowd from a podium, stressing the importance of helping veterans find jobs, housing and financial stability after they complete their service.
“At a time when we need to bind our nation together and rebuild its foundations, the spirit and service of our veterans is essential to our country’s success,” Emanuel said.
James T. Jackson, a retired Army major general, presented Emanuel with a flag commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. Jackson, Emanuel and representatives of the five branches of the military then laid a commemorative wreath at the base of a wall listing the names of dead or missing Illinois soldiers.
Harold E. Dillard, a Navy and Air Force veteran from Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, said he’s relieved that today’s veterans have gotten a much warmer welcome home than those who served with him during Vietnam.
“I’m glad to see that the young people that are serving now are getting plenty of support from the civilians,” Dillard said.
Hasan Baker Sr., a Navy veteran who also served during Vietnam, said he was thrilled to see so many civilians at Saturday’s ceremony.
“It makes me proud to see them,” said Baker, of Chicago’s Ashburn neighborhood. “I’m just proud to be a veteran.”
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