The sun was shining on an unusually warm November morning Saturday as 60 people gathered for the Veterans Day Memorial Observance and Wreath Laying Ceremony that was held at Memorial Park in Hickory Hills.
Officiating at the ceremony was Ald. Thomas McAvoy (3rd Ward) because Mayor Mike Howley was unable to attend. Also on hand was Hickory Hills Police Chief Al Vodicka, Police Chaplain Father Joe Mol and members of both the police and fire departments.
The color guard of Cub Scout Pack 4728 presented the colors for the ceremony. Boy Scout Joseph Szeszycki escorted City Clerk Dee Catizone and Nancy Knutson for the wreath laying portion of the program.
In addition to honoring all veterans for their service and sacrifice, Saturday’s ceremony also brought special attention to a group of volunteers who labor all year long to provide messages of encouragement and care packages to soldiers in active duty
Fifteen volunteers, members of a local organization known as the “Boxers Battalion” of Kruse’s Krew, a Hickory Hills-based local organization (formerly known as “Adopt a Platoon”) were honored with certificates of appreciation for their dedicated efforts to send needed items to young men and women, who they explain are in harm’s way and deployed far from home defending America.
On the third Tuesday of every month, these volunteers gather to prepare boxes of donated food, treats, toiletries, letters, cards and other items to send to U.S. troops around the world.
The title Kruse’s Krew is derived from the name of the man who started the organization 12 years ago, operating out of his basement. He is Jim Kruse, a veteran of the Vietnam War. He was in the U.S. Army where he achieved the rank of sergeant, serving as a teletype and cryptology equipment specialist. He served from 1967-1970. Today he resides in Palos Hills with Debra, his wife of 20 years.
He knows first-hand how lonely it can be for a soldier on the battlefield.
“I know from experience that the most important thing to a serviceman or woman is not the chow, or sack time, or firing their weapons. It is mail call. You stand in line, waiting for your name to be called, and what a boost it is when you receive a letter or care package from home. But when there is no letter, no package, it is very depressing,” he said.
“Many of our troops now have no family back home or loved ones to write them. They enlisted to get away from paths that were going nowhere, or had no family who cared, or were too poor to send anything,” added Kruse. “My team and I have been fighting to prevent that depression at mail call with love and support American style. We send goodies, cards, letters and items to let them know they have support, and prayers of folks back home.”
Twelve years ago, as Christmas was approaching, Kruse said he had an idea about sending Christmas cards to troops on active duty.
“I went to my priest at St. Patricia’s and asked if I could hold a card-signing there. He said yes, and the first year we had 400 cards signed by parishioners,” recalled Kruse. “Last year, card signing was done at several locations including Stagg and Andrews high schools, Oakridge School and Fairplay Grocery Store. We mailed a total of 7,000 Christmas cards to our soldiers.”
The project has grown to include the care packages, packed by volunteers, which often include homemade cookies and fudge. “One of our volunteers knits stockings all year so they can be sent in the Christmas packages,” said Kruse.
Kruse’s Krew works with the City of Hickory Hills, local merchants and religious groups to increase the awareness of veterans and to collect donated items to be sent to the Armed Forces. There are several collection points in the area where residents can donate items for the boxes including Hickory Hills City Hall, the Community Center at 7800 W. 89th Place, and the Palos Hills Community Center at 8455 W. 103rd St.
“These boxes or care packages have a positive impact on the morale of the men and women who defend us, our nation and liberty. The packages let them know that their sacrifices are appreciated and that they are not forgotten or alone,” said Kruse.
“My volunteers who the city honored today are all standing up to let our servicemen and women know that they will not be alone, not on our watch.”