Marseilles commemorates 3 veterans who died serving in the Vietnam War, rededicates highways

‘Their legacy lives on,” state rep. Lance Yednock says of the commemoration

David Raikes introduces Debbie Sampson, sister of Spc. Norman Treest during the Memorial Dedication Ceremony on Monday, May 29, 2023, at the Marseilles American Legion.

Debbie Sapp was honored the community of Marseilles will remember her brother Staff Sgt. Jon Charles Sapp, along with Spc. Norman Treest and Sgt. Michael Vangelisti, who each died while actively serving during the Vietnam War.

She was one of many family and friends, who attended Monday’s ceremony and shared memories of Sapp, Treest and Vangelisti at the Marseilles American Legion to rename three highways in their honor.

Sapp said family members, such as herself, live with the memories of their loved ones’ sacrifice every day.

“Freedom is not free,” she said, pointing out a display with those words. “I feel like small towns in the United States understand this more, because any time someone is taken, it affects everyone in the community because they know them.”

For their service to their country, Main Street going south will be Staff Sgt. Jon Sapp Memorial Highway; U.S. 6 heading east toward Morris will be tabbed Sgt. Michael Vangelisti Memorial Highway; and U.S. 6 going west toward Ottawa will be named Spc. Norman Treest Memorial Highway.

Resolutions were passed through the Illinois General Assembly and signed by Gov. JB Pritzker, then read aloud during Monday’s presentation.

“Their legacy lives on,” said state Rep. Lance Yednock (D-Ottawa), who advanced the resolutions in the House.

The city of Marseilles also passed resolutions in honor of the three veterans. Marseilles Commissioner Bobby Kaminski said the city recently coined itself as the “City of Remembrance,” also hosting the Middle East Conflicts Wall near the Illinois River. He said the city is focused on paying tribute to those who sacrificed for the U.S.

Gary Bruno, now of Granville, remembers serving alongside Treest as a medic at Vietnam. They served together in training in Texas, flew from O’Hare Airport in Chicago together to California, then Vietnam. Bruno tended to Treest’s wound that would prove fatal.

“I was told not to make friends at Vietnam, but it was impossible not to (for Treest),” Bruno said.

Treest’s sister Debbie Sampson and other family members attended the ceremony Monday

Ron Hickey said he recalled being at Ottawa High School with Treest and the superintendent informing them about the war in Southeast Asia, saying to the students many of them will serve and some of them will not return.

“The medics are the bravest on the battle field,” Hickey said of Treest, who returned to combat after being wounded once. “Norman will never be forgotten.”

Hickey then showed a wristband with Treest’s name to those in attendance: “I wear Norman every day.”

Mary Ann and Richard Vangelisti, first cousins of Michael Vangelisti, said the sergeant’s father tried to persuade him not to enlist, after his father was a prisoner of war in World War II. The father and son duo were restoring a Harley Davidson motorcycle together and Michael told his father he would enlist in the Air Force and return home. Working on a shadow gunship during Vietnam, Michael’s aircraft crashed in the line of duty because of a malfunction with its equipment.

Mary Anna and Richard, with several other cousins present Monday, said thanks to the highway commemoration “Michael will never be forgotten.”

The project was orchestrated by David Raikes, post historian Hank Roe and the post.

Roe read papers from Washington D.C. honoring Sapp with several awards, including the Silver Star for gallantry in action, the Bronze Star Medal, Air Medal, Purple Heart and the Good Conduct Medal, among others.

“Staff Sgt. Sapp distinguished himself by gallantry in action engaged in military operations ... " Roe read from the papers. " ... On this date while conducting a sweep through a dense nipa palm thicket his platoon came under intense automatic and semiautomatic weapons fire from well-concealed and well-camouflaged bunkers to the front. Immediately reacting to the danger, Sgt. Sapp began directing his squad’s counterfire in an attempt to silence the enemy. Suddenly a hand grenade was hurled from an enemy bunker, seriously wounding three of his squad members. Sgt. Sapp spotted the location of the bunker and crawled toward the hostile soldiers and engaged them within 5 meters. Ten meters from his position he spotted another bunker and hurled fragmentation grenades into it.”

Roe said Sapp was killed returning to his main element by an enemy sniper.

“Main Street will be called Jon Sapp Memorial Highway,” Roe said. “He will not be forgotten.”