Montgomery dedicates monuments to veterans, first responders and essential workers

Officials praise sense of community

Kris Kearns, Osewgo Fire Protection District Lieutenant speaks before the unveiled first responders and essential workers monument in Montgomery

A moment of reflection united community members and those who dedicate their lives to service as World War II Navy veteran Dick Miller sang, “God Bless America,” commemorating the unveiling of two monuments to public service on Monday, July 8.

The Village of Montgomery and the Fox Valley Park District hosted a ceremony in Montgomery Park dedicating two monuments to the community’s veterans, first responders, and essential workers. Members representing the police force, military veterans, fire protection, medical professionals and essential workers, gathered along the Fox River to pay tribute to their shared sacrifice.

Navy Veteran Terry Prince, the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, said the two monuments serve as a testament to the shared purpose we as a community strive to fulfill.

Montgomery Village President Matt Brolley speaks before the newly unveiled veterans monument in Montgomery

“These aren’t just pieces of stone; they are living, breathing monuments, reflecting all the people who serve in this community,” said Prince. “Where veterans, first responders and essential workers come together is we are all working towards the greater good in life. These monuments give people a chance to reflect on that and how they themselves can do their part for the community.”

As veterans of different eras of conflict and peacetime stood in attention to the Fox Valley Marines Detachment ceremonial gun volley salute, Prince stressed the importance of why the lessons learned should be memorialized.

“I’ve often heard that veterans often die twice; once at the end of their life, and once when their story stops being told,” said Prince. “With monuments like these, their stories continue being told and it reminds the next generation the sacrifices that helped provide our freedoms.”

One of those stories is embodied by the life of Aurora’s Dick Miller who served upon the ill-fated USS Drexler heading towards the shores of imperial Japan.

“It was May 28, 1945; we were off of Okinawa,” said Miller. “The (kamikaze) airplanes torpedoed down. Our entire ship went down in 49 seconds. Fourty-nine seconds. I went in; 158 of our men were lost.”

After the dedication ceremony, community members of all ages shook hands and thanked Miller for his service.

“Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, we knew the selfless acts of our military service members and first responders, but that moment demonstrated the essential workers that often were serving others without recognition.”

—  Matt Brolley, Montgomery village president

The ceremony featured notable speeches by Village President Matt Brolley, State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Aurora, Prince, and Oswego Fire Protection District Lt. Kris Kearns.

According to the village, the monuments were funded through state grants obtained and championed by Kifowit and other grants made possible by the State of Illinois Department of Economic Opportunity as well as village investments.

WWII Navy Veteran Dick Miller sings "God Bless America" in Montgomery

Kifowit said as a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps she understood the sacrifices those who dedicate their lives to service endure.

“Service after military service is what so many veterans already do,” she said. “Across our community you will find veterans continuing to serve in local charities, (especially) the VFW and Legion Halls. To serve is in every veteran’s heart. These two monuments show how a community can come together and continue to serve and help those who are less fortunate.”

A respectful silence fell over those gathered as Mike Gilloffo of the American Legion Band trumpeted out taps with audience members clutching yellow honor flowers.

Brolley said the collaboration of the community is what makes these monuments so special and praised gratitude to the Montgomery residents, essential workers, veterans, and first responders who sat in focus group meetings and helped formulate the direction of the monuments.

“We all have our own stories of the real-life heroes that are veterans, first responders, and essential workers,” said Brolley. “From those that have served in our military, to first responders who come into work each day not knowing what they will face and who they will protect, to the teachers, doctors, nurses, and other essential workers that show up and serve our communities every day.”

The newly unveiled monument to first responders and essential workers bearing a quote from President John F. Kennedy in Montgomery

Brolley said for all the workers who call Montgomery home, he wants each of them to know they are recognized and appreciated by their community.

“Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, we knew the selfless acts of our military service members and first responders, but that moment demonstrated the essential workers that often were serving others without recognition,” said Brolley. “We want these monuments to not only recognize those who have served, but those who currently serve, and use it as a platform to encourage others to dedicate their lives to serving others in the future.”

That sentiment is captured by the etched quotation upon the First Responder & Essential Workers Monument said by President John F. Kennedy, a Navy veteran who also established the U.S. Peace Corps: “What really counts is not the immediate act of courage or valor, but those who bear the struggle day in day out – not the sunshine patriots but those who are willing to stand for a long period of time.”

Another silence of contemplation embraced the crowd as the Kane County Chiefs of Police Association Honor Guard and Bagpipes sounded out a haunting rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

Sunlight filtered through a massive American flag hoisted from the top of a firetruck’s extended ladder.

The park paths were lined with uniformed young service members beginning a long career of dedication to their communities. Helping to lead them was Kearns, a 27-year veteran with the Oswego Fire Protection District.

“These monuments are a profound symbol of gratitude and respect, representing the community and acknowledging others’ sacrifices and dedication,” said Kearns. “It’s important to have events like this to try to impact the younger generation; the future is not defined yet. For the younger generation, it will highlight the importance of supporting and valuing those we count on to answer the call when we’re in need.”

Kearns said the monuments and moments of reflection and reverence are all about fostering a sense of unity with those in our community.

“It provides a sense of pride and honor in our duty and community, reinforcing the reasons why people answer the call to service,” Kearns said.