CRYSTAL LAKE – John Renskers needs a moment to gather himself as tears well up.
The 92-year-old is thinking about his return from a war.
And a war memorial.
Renskers, who served in the Army from 1942 until the end of World War II, recently took an Honor Flight trip to Washington where he visited all the major memorials including the new one for World War II veterans. But it was not the monuments or time with fellow veterans that moved Renskers most. It was the welcome waiting for him in Chicago.
When World War II ended, Renskers did not receive the great American homecoming many of his brothers-in-arms did because he first went back to England where he was stationed. So when he saw more than 1,000 people greet him and the 90 World War II veterans with American flags as they landed back in Chicago after the Honor Flight, he was overwhelmed with emotion.
Northwest Herald reporter Jeff Engelhardt sits down with Renskers to talk about his service, Honor Flight trip and contributions to Crystal Lake.
Engelhardt: So I hear the Honor Flight trip was a little last minute.
Renskers: On Tuesday afternoon (Oct. 29) they called and said ‘Yeah, he can go. Be there at 4:15 a.m. Wednesday morning. Turns out they had a previous Honor Flight in October. They were trying to get one more in while the weather was decent. I really wasn’t that excited about going at first because it was so early in the morning.
Engelhardt: How was the experience?
Renskers: It was a very exciting and thrilling experience, because I hadn’t been to Washington in 35 years. It was completely different. The World War II memorial is brand new and it is a beautiful, beautiful display. It’s nice to know that people honor you. When we got back to Chicago there was a big reception at the airport with well over 1,000 people there. It was really packed and everyone had a flag and said welcome home. So that was our honor reception.
Engelhardt: Was there any memorial or moment that really stood out?
Renskers: There was a lot we saw. We saw the Iwo Jima sculpture and the Vietnam War memorial which was very somber. It supposedly has the names of the people who died in the sequence in which they were reported to have died, which was interesting. And we also had representatives from all the services for a memorial service we had at the World War II memorial.
Engelhardt: Does a program like Honor Flight help veterans not only with paying respects to each other but also staying in the public eye?
Renskers: There aren’t many World War II vets left. We didn’t really talk to each other a whole lot on the trip. In mid-afternoon there was a refreshment stand where we stopped and chatted for about 15 minutes but the rest of the time we were going from place to place. I heard because there are less World War II veterans, they are going to do flights for Korean and Vietnam War veterans, which is good.
Engelhardt: In addition to being a World War II veteran, I understand you were one of the original organizers of the Crystal Lake YMCA. How has it been seeing all the growth there and support from the community?
Renskers: I was one of the three guys that organized the YMCA here. We were dependent on our local citizens to support us as opposed to the YMCA of greater Chicago, which helps it now. It is amazing to see how it’s growing. I remember when I lived in Lombard and would come up here. It went from one traffic light and one stop sign from Lombard to Cary to what it is now. The whole area has grown.