American FlagBy Lisa Rodgers


BELVIDERE-On the foggy, overcast morning of Nov. 4 at around 8 a.m. at St. James Catholic Cemetery, roughly a dozen volunteers walked each aisle of the cemetery searching for veterans’ headstones.

Both men and women from the American Legion Post 77, John Hugo Kaiser from the V.F.W. Post 1461, and various members of the public, including husband and wife duos, volunteered to find veterans’ graves to place flags upon them in honor of Veterans Day.

Twice a year volunteers place the American flag next to the grave marker of a veteran for Memorial Day and Veterans Day. A rough estimate is between 1000 to 1500 flags will be placed in the cemeteries and the number of flags needed only continues to grow.

At St. James Catholic Cemetery, John Darley and Ron Schmidt walked each row in the cemetery looking for an indication on each grave marker if it belonged to a veteran. Both men grew up in Belvidere.

“Volunteers for decades have placed flags on the grave markers of all the veterans buried at each cemetery. We are just the latest evolution,” John Darley, an E5 Combat Medic with the 9th Infantry in the U.S. Army during Vietnam, said.

“It’s a combined effort and I am thankful we live in a free country where we are able to do this. We have veterans in this cemetery that go as far back as the Spanish American War.”

As the conversation evolved, it turned to the parade having been cancelled due to District 100 being in session and the children not able to fully participate.

When Ron Schmidt was asked if he had anything he would like to say to the school district he responded: “Honey, what I have to say, you can’t print!”

Schimdt served as an E4 Store Keeper LST 1126 in the U.S. Navy.

“I’m nearly 80-years-old. The Veterans Day Parade has been held every year for at least the past 70 years. As far back as I can remember. When I was a kid about eight or nine and the WWII Vets were coming home they would fire the 21 gun salute off the State Street Bridge for Veterans Day. We would scramble trying to pick up the brass shell casings,” Schmidt said.

Volunteering at the Belvidere Cemetery were Alan Steurer and Keith Bodey. Steurer served in the U.S. Marine Corps and Bodey served in the Airforce. Both men grew up in the community.

“It will take us anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours to go through the cemetery placing the flags. (Pointing) Do you see those white grave markers over there in a row with the flags? Those are our boys. These were veterans who did not have a way to pay to be buried and the VFW paid for their burials,” Bodey said.

Other volunteers included Dennis (Animal) Hoftender and Chuck Eby who served in the U.S. Army.

“We only found out about 14 days ago the school would be open and that the parade had been cancelled,” Hoftender said. “The community backs our Vets. When we walk in the parade the people will stand up, take their hats off and honor us. It makes you feel good and you feel your chest stick out. It makes me proud to be an American,” Hoftender said.

“To me it’s as if Belvidere is dying by the powers at be. It saddens me. It’s feels like it did when I came home from Vietnam. At the airport people would walk a wide berth and not make eye contact. It was as if I was a leper. The school district has made me feel like I’m being ostracized all over again for being a veteran,” Darley said.

There will be a ceremony honoring our veterans on Nov. 11 beginning at 9:30 a.m. The Honor Guard will have a 21 gun salute at the WWII Memorial in Belvidere Park followed at 10a.m. with a ceremony at the VFW Post located at 1310 W. Lincoln Ave. in Belvidere.

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