Photo by Dermot ConnollyRecruits from Great Lakes Naval Base are welcomed by an honor guard of flag-bearers outside Glenn Maker American Legion Post 1160, 10739 S. Ridgeland Ave., in Chicago Ridge, which hosted them on Thanksgiving Day.
On Thanksgiving morning, many Chicago Ridge residents took time away from their own turkey preparations to welcome about 20 recruits from Great Lakes Naval Base to Glenn Maker American Legion Post 1160, which hosted them for the day.
Several motorcycle clubs escorted their bus from the naval base near Waukegan, along with Chicago Ridge and Cook County police. And as the bus approached the Legion post at 10739 S. Ridgeland Ave., residents waving flags of all sizes lined Ridgeland Avenue in front of the Legion hall, 10739 S. Ridgeland Ave., and provided a guard of honor from the bus into the hall.
“I’m a former military mom. We’ve been doing this since it started seven years ago. It has become our family tradition,” said Judi Mirochna, a former resident who now lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
The annual event was founded by her friends, Jen and Rob Pyznarski, the Chicago Ridge police chief, when their own son was in the Marines and away from home. “Some other mother took my own son in on Thanksgiving, and I wanted to do the same,” said Jen Pyznarski, who accompanied the group on the bus from Great Lakes.
“It’s a great community event,” said Trustee Amanda Cardin, noting that local Girl Scout Troop 55559 spent time the day before setting tables and decorating the Legion Hall for the recruits, writing thank you notes for them, and providing bowls full of candy. Other trustees participating included Sally Durkin, William McFarland and Bruce Quintos.
Quintos, a retired police officer, was among the motorcyclists who rode with the bus from Great Lakes with his motorcycle club, The Renegade Pigs. “What an honor it was to do that,” said Quintos. Village Clerk George Schleyer was also there to welcome the recruits on behalf of the village, while Mayor Chuck Tokar was out of town.
The bus arrived about 10:30 a.m., and the full Thanksgiving meal was not the only thing on the menu for the recruits, who were invited to make the Legion Hall their home all day. Sprint provided cellphones with unlimited minutes to call home, and well as computers provided by Prairie State University so they could Skype with their families across the country. XBox and Playstation gaming systems were also available for their use.
Before settling in for the day, the recruits introduced themselves. They came from the East Coast, the West Coast and seemingly everywhere in between, as well as Hawaii, in the case of Roxanne Moya. “It’s very cold here,” she said with a grin.
“I’m blown away by the welcome you have given us. It makes it all worth it,” said Colin Quill, of Phoenix, Ariz.
“We’re your family today,” said Chief Pyznarski. “This food is a little bit better than what you would get in a mess hall. And don’t worry about cleaning up either. We are here to serve you today.”
Girl Scout Hannah Bartlett, led the Pledge of Allegiance in sign language, while Sam West played music on her piccolo. After introducing themselves, the recruits sang their own rendition of “Anchors Aweigh,” accompanied by Sam.
The Rev. Ken Carlson, pastor of St. Benedict Church in Blue Island and an Army chaplain, praised the recruits for their service.
“You’ve told me you haven’t done anything yet. But you have. Only one percent of the U.S, population joins the military. I spent a lot of time away from home on holidays, so I know how hard it is,” said Carlson, who has served in Afghanistan and Korea. “We thank you for what you have done and what you are going to do. We thank all the unselfish people like you, who put everything on the line.