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Hundreds celebrate annual 'Keep the Spirit of '45 Alive' event for veterans in McHenry

McHENRY – Hundreds attended the eighth annual “Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive” event Sunday at Veteran’s Park, 3400 Pearl St., which commemorates the end of World War II.

More than a dozen local veterans who fought in the war attended the event. Ronnie Reber, the past commander for McHenry Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the town’s event brings in more people than all of the other National Spirit of ’45 Day events in the country.

Reber said the Polish Legion of American Veterans, the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars veterans posts wanted to honor World War II veterans for what they did and what they sacrificed.

“You’ve got to look at what that generation went through. I mean, they were taking bumpers off of their cars, they were throwing their bicycles into the trash heaps to get metal to make planes,” Reber said. “It was an effort where the entire country was involved in it.”

Reber said V-J Day was a huge celebration for “the greatest generation,” and everybody was glad the war was over. He said the objective was to reflect that kind of merriment in the event.

“We try to get as many World War II veterans in here as possible,” Reber said. “They’re getting older, and they’re dying very quickly.”

Ray Henders, of Fox Lake, was 17 years old when he joined the U.S. Navy during World War II. He also was part of a barbershop quartet that performed for U.S. soldiers overseas during the Vietnam War, which led him to a singing part in the John Hughes movie “Baby’s Day Out.”

Henders said many lost their family members during World War II, but it was a time when people stood up for what they believed in.

“In our quartet, we sing Lee Greenwood’s ‘Proud to Be An American,’ and every time we sing it, people stand up,” Henders said. “I mean, it’s about time we stand up and claim to be an American and act like an American.”

Mayor Wayne Jett declared Sunday “Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive Day” in McHenry during the event. Members of McHenry veterans groups gave a 21-gun salute and two baskets full of doves were released while several buglers played taps.

Virginia Stubblefield, of McHenry, said she is a U.S. Air Force veteran and was part of the Nurse Corps during the Vietnam War. She said she attended the event with her granddaughters in solidarity with the World War II veterans.

“Being military, you feel for all of the veterans, regardless of when they served,” Stubblefield said. “The World War II [veterans were] the greatest generation, and they’re dying by each day, and so we need to support those who are still living.”

Ron Bykowski, the founder of the “Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive” event in McHenry, said it’s important to keep having events like this as a reminder of the past and to ensure the history is not lost forever.

“We will continue this for as long as we can,” Bykowski said.

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