Thousands of World War II veterans in the Midwest are being honored through unique programs produced by a nonprofit organization based in Des Plaines. The Day of Honor programs, given by Pillars of Honor, feature the architectural model of the National World War II Memorial.
Pillars of Honor made its first overnight trip to the Quincy Veterans Home in Quincy, IL on Feb. 2, said Steven Shaefer, board president. After giving the veterans a presentation on the memorial in Washington, D.C., which opened to the public in 2004, playing music and unveiling the architectural model of the memorial, the experience became emotional for many veterans, he said.
“When you see the veterans crying that are sitting in front of you when you’re doing this program, and they understand the meaning, they get a sense of pride about their service that maybe they didn’t feel before,” Shaefer said.
Shaefer, a Vietnam veteran who has volunteered for various veterans organizations for 40 years, said the veterans they gave the presentation to were appreciative that somebody showed they really cared, and did something special for them.
“It makes you want to cry too,” Shaefer said.
Pillars of Honor has presented its Day of Honor program to many groups of veterans in the area since its inception in 2010, Shaefer said, and now they were focused on sharing it at state-funded veterans homes in Illinois and neighboring states.
A fundraiser held in February generated more than $12,000 for Pillars of Honor, Shaefer said, which will fund the overnight trips. Each presentation costs between $2,000 and $3,000, Shaefer said, after truck and bus rental and traveling expenses are totaled.
“Our goal, our mission statement is to take this [architectural model of the National World War II Memorial] to World War II veterans,” Shaefer said. “We thought, where best to find World War II veterans that aren’t able to travel to Washington, D.C. than veterans homes?”
The all-volunteer group of 12 to 15 people plans to travel to as many veterans homes as possible before the model goes to the Smithsonian Institution, Shaefer said. The model is on loan to Pillars of Honor on a five-year open contract, which will reach its third anniversary in April, he said.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Shaefer said. “We have the only model of the World War II memorial, and when we get done, it’s going back to the Smithsonian,” Shaefer said. “So, we’re not the average group coming in and doing a bingo or doing a little concert or something like that.”
Many of the approximately 1.5 million World War II veterans in the U.S. that they give the program for have limited mobility, Shaefer said, and may not have the opportunity to visit the memorial in Washington, D.C.
“This is something that has meaning to these World War II veterans, and a lot of these men and women in these homes, they don’t talk about their experiences because of different issues they’ve had,” Shaefer said. “We give the World War II veterans their day of honor, so they can have the World War II memorial experience,” Shaefer said.
Pillars of Honor is scheduled to present its Day of Honor program at King Veterans Home in King, WI on April 14, and at Indiana Veterans Home in West Lafayette, IN on June 23. For a complete list of upcoming events, information about Pillars of Honor and how you can volunteer and donate, visit its website.
Pillars of Honor presented its first Day of Honor program at the Des Plaines Public Library in August 2010, and again at River Park Moose Lodge in Des Plaines in January 2011.
For more information about the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., visit its website.