To ensure that local veterans and those currently serving in the armed forces are honored, Joliet Central High School held a ceremony Nov. 10.
Activities at the annual event included musical tributes, patriotic hymns and a moment of silence.
Joliet Central High School principal Shad Hallihan said holding the event brings great meaning to the campus community.
“It’s always just such a privilege to see so many veterans here and to hear the wonderful stories about the service they made to our country,” he said.
More than 40 veterans were recognized during the ceremony with a reading of their biographies.
Vic Genge, of Joliet, said it was nice being part of the program to honor local veterans.
“Now it’s nice to be appreciated,” he said. “It really is. I’m proud of having served in the air force, served in the military, and it’s really nice to be appreciated.”
Genge served in the air force from 1968-1971 spending the latter year based in Vietnam.
Noting that Vietnam was not a popular time to serve in the military, Genge said he’s glad the nation’s view of the matter is changing.
“When I came back from Vietnam, Vietnam was not a popular war,” he said. “People in the military that served in Vietnam were looked down upon. We weren’t welcomed home. Today, they have a much different view of the military.”
Genge explained that politics and bad press tarnished their reputation for many years but could tell that public perceptions have shifted the conversation.
Still, Genge said there’s more to the stories of Vietnam veterans that young people in today’s world might never fully comprehend.
“I don’t think that the generation now really understands what it was like coming back from Vietnam,” he said. “I didn’t have a gun, I wasn’t fighting anybody, but I was supporting the troops that were. When we came back, we definitely weren’t appreciated. World War I, World War II, Korea, Desert Storm, all of them, every other war, the service men when they came back, they were welcomed back. Fellas that came back from Vietnam were not. So, it’s nice that we’ve been accepted as supporting our country.”
Groups represented during the ceremony were the Joliet Central Symphonic Band, Joliet Central choirs and the JROTC cadets.
Following the program, students and guests had the opportunity to meet with veterans during a reception in the student center.
James Giacomi, of Joliet, said the program was a “tear jerker.”
“(I enjoyed) the band and how they introduced all the veterans, told them their rank, where they were at, and what they did in service,” he said. “I think it was fantastic.”
Giacomi devoted his time to serving the nation’s army in 1969 and 1972 by completing two tours in Vietnam.
During his time, Giacomi served as an M-60 machine gunner, worked intelligence, and was a communication radio specialist. He would earn a number of accolades for his efforts including a Vietnamese campaign medal, a good conduct medal and national defense medal.
“I just found out today there’s only 800,000 Vietnam veterans left in this country,” Giacomi said. “I just found that out today—I always wondered how many were left—800,000 in the country, that’s it. So, (there’s) not many of us left.”
James’ wife, Elizabeth Giacomi said knowing that her husband is one of 800,000 remaining Vietnam veterans across the country to be honored is a big deal.
The hope, according to Hallihan, is that the campus community finds the ceremony to be moving.
“I think it’s important that our students get to hear those stories and learn about the importance of service and understand the sacrifices that so many people have made for the freedoms that they have,” he said.