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McHenry event helps keep the ‘Spirit of ’45’ alive

Earle and Gerry Swanson of McHenry dance as a trombone solo from the Pat Crawford Big Band plays Sunday during McHenry’s observance of “Keep The Spirit of 45 Alive” at Veterans Memorial Park. This year's celebration recognized and honored friends and neighbors who supported the war effort from the home front.
Earle and Gerry Swanson of McHenry dance as a trombone solo from the Pat Crawford Big Band plays Sunday during McHenry’s observance of “Keep The Spirit of 45 Alive” at Veterans Memorial Park. This year's celebration recognized and honored friends and neighbors who supported the war effort from the home front.

McHENRY – After being recognized in front of hundreds Sunday, some of the people who helped furnish the equipment and supplies for American soldiers fighting World War II were left nearly speechless.

McHenry natives Bernice Etten and Stella Vogt were a part of the half dozen area home front workers of World War II honored during the city's fifth annual "Keep the Spirit of '45 Alive" event, intended to honor the many people from the generation that lived through the war.

Both worked in area factories nearly 72 years ago, making equipment for soldiers abroad, and both were equally surprised after being handed flowers and a city proclamation recognizing their wartime work.

"It was a big surprise. I had no idea, but it's quite the honor," said the 90-year-old Etten, who started making tents for the army at a McHenry factory in 1942 after her husband enlisted in the U.S. Navy. "I think it was the best kind of job that you can find at the time."

Vogt, who at 16 years old in 1942 made equipment for the war, also didn't know she would be a part of the event Sunday. She said "it felt wonderful" to be honored, although at the time she felt her work was simply a job done during wartime.

At least 500 people gathered at Veterans Memorial Park in McHenry to honor the countless workers and veterans who served in World War II.

The second Sunday of August is the national "Spirit of '45" remembrance day that commemorates the end of World War II. Towns across the United States host similar events like the one in McHenry.

Emcee and event organizer Ron Bykowski said he wanted to specifically honor the home front workers this year because they often are an afterthought of World War II.

"They are a part of the greatest generation and without them, there was no way our military would have won the war," he said.

Each year, organizers of the "Spirit of '45" event individually recognize the area World War II veterans in attendance at the gazebo in the city's veterans park. Roughly 35 veterans were honored.

The life-sized statue depicting the famous photo of a sailor kissing a nurse on V-J Day made another appearance. The “Unconditional Surrender, the Kiss Seen Around the World” sculpture that weighs 600 pounds travels across the country.

Buglers from Bugles Across America helped conclude the hour-long event by playing "Taps," as 29 white doves were released into the air.

Events honoring what many call the greatest generation are especially important since many from that generation are dying, Bykowski said.

"If we don't say thank you now, we will never have another opportunity to do that," he said.

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