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Aurora Veterans Day event honors those who answered ‘sacred calling’

Army veteran Ralph Nabicht daughter Hannah greet group marching down Illinois Avenue Sunday during Veterans Day observances Aurora.
Mary Beth Nolan~For

Army veteran Ralph Nabicht and daughter Hannah greet a group marching down Illinois Avenue Sunday during Veterans Day observances in Aurora. Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 13, 2012 10:25AM

With blustery winds and a rough river current in plain view, Aurora came together Sunday to honor the heroism of the men and women of the armed forces.

“It always seems quite fitting to me that this day comes in deep autumn when the colors are muted and the days invite contemplation,” said Lt. Cmdr. Darryl Person, a veteran U.S. Navy chaplain who now heads the East Aurora NJROTC program.

The annual Veterans Day procession and observances were relocated to Veterans Island along the east bank of the Fox River to accommodate the Downer Place construction in the downtown.

Person, the keynote speaker, reminded the several hundred people in attendance how the day is dedicated to military personnel who have served, are in uniform, and died in combat.

“They are not cape-wearing comic book heroes or life-sized GI Joe figures with a Kung Fu grip or soldiers of fortune,” Person said.

Person said many decide to enlist in the military as a career choice, but most also do it for God, love of country and honor to serve a great nation.

A military career is a “sacred calling,” the Navy chaplain said.

Person asked the audience to consider the impact “1 percent” of the population is having on the world in fighting for freedom, defending the downtrodden, protecting the nation’s borders and advancing democracy.

He said the best way for people to show they care about veterans is through their deeds in helping the wounded veterans and supporting military service for youth.

Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner said Veterans Day is both a celebratory and solemn event.

“We celebrate the veterans who returned home from war and their service, but we solemnly memorialize those who gave the last measure of devotion to their country and did not return,” Weisner said.

Remembering ‘Doc’

Although some said they missed the historical GAR Memorial Hall on Downer Place, many found the setting around the 24-foot high monument a fitting location as the city remembered the late Norris “Doc” Erickson, who died this year.

Erickson, immediate past commander of the American Legion Post 84, was instrumental in bringing the Moving Vietnam Wall to Aurora in 1989 and the renaming of Veterans Island. He also led a campaign to raise funds to maintain the Fourth of July Parade in 2011.

“We shall long remember Doc Erickson as an American patriot who touched all of our lives,” said Tom Sampson, commander of the American Legion.

The ceremonies were marked by patriotic songs by the West Aurora High School A Cappella choir, and two vintage war aircraft flew over the crowd as the sounding of taps was played by Marmion Academy ROTC cadets Brett Koskinen and Alex Lopez in recognition of those who died for freedom.

The Fox Valley Marine Corps League placed a wreath at the island’s memorial to honor veterans and Gold Star families whose loved ones died while serving in war. “We cannot heal the heart of a mother who lost a son, but we do not want them to ever think we do not care,” said Frank Gordon, a member of the veterans group.

World War II U.S. Navy veteran Warren “Red” Dixon of Aurora rode on a vintage jeep during the procession eastward on Illinois Avenue.

Dixon, 96, said he served on the USS Corbesier (DE-438). “We sunk a submarine that shot down a plane, were in seven typhoons and a lot of battles,” Dixon said. “I used to write my wife two and three times a day,” he said.

“It feels very special to be here,” said Laura Magana, East Aurora member of NJROTC program. “All veterans command our respect.”

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