McHENRY – Hundreds gathered in McHenry’s Veteran’s Memorial Park on Sunday, some donning red, white and blue and others carrying miniature American flags, to honor and celebrate the area’s World War II veterans for their service.
McHenry’s veterans clubs, including American Legion Post 491, VFW Post 4600 and the Polish Legion, organized the third annual “Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive” event at the park with extra significance.
The clubs’ effort was recognized by Gov. Pat Quinn’s office as the only “Spirit of ’45” celebration in Illinois. McHenry has owned that title ever since Congress passed a resolution in 2010 that recognized the second Sunday in August as a day to honor World War II veterans for their victory in the war on Aug. 14, 1945.
While standing in front of families and war veterans, organizer Ron Bykowski, who is an American Legion and Polish Legion member, reminded people that the day’s real significance was the sacrifice of everyday citizens, who helped the country preserve its democratic character.
“Take a few moments to stop and say thank you to these ordinary heroes,” Bykowski said.
McHenry’s “Spirit of ’45” day culminated with the release of 21 white doves from the center of the park, after viewers listened to a booming gun salute and 18 buglers play “Taps.” The doves were intended to symbolize peace and honor for all veterans.
Before the doves flew from the ground, residents and veterans witnessed the unveiling of a life-sized statue depicting the iconic moment of the sailor and nurse locking lips in Times Square in 1945 after the war ended following news of Japan’s surrender.
The traveling statue is one of three in the country, Bykowski said. It will be displayed in McHenry for about a week before crews move it to the Mall of America in Minneapolis. Following the ceremony, The Lakes Area Swing Band played 1940s-era tunes, while Lou Rugani of WLIP Kenosha Radio gave a vintage wartime broadcast.
McHenry’s event was nationally recognized this year, after Bykowski was invited to speak at a national conference in San Diego about the community’s ceremony. On Sunday, state Sen. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry, presented the community with a proclamation from Quinn that recognized McHenry for being the only community in Illinois to celebrate “Spirit of ’45 Day.”
The proclamation reflects the community’s dedication to honoring local veterans, said McHenry Mayor Sue Low.
“It’s brought wonderful attention to our community and our veterans who so richly deserve it,” Low told the crowd.