Stadalsky: Celebrating Bill Wunderlich, a true U.S. hero
By Kris Stadalsky firstname.lastname@example.org February 22, 2013 4:20PM
Bill Wunderlich (seated) was honored by volunteer veterans of Joliet Area Community Hospice during a pinning ceremony last week for his service in the U.S. Navy. Veteran Larry Koppen (left), U.S. Navy, and Tom Naughton, Marine Corps, (not shown) hold a U.S. flag and salute Wunderlich. Wunderlich also celebrated his 92nd birthday. | Kris Stadalsky ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 26, 2013 6:05AM
I had the great pleasure of seeing my friend and fellow Rotarian Bill Wunderlich at a celebration for his 92nd birthday and a pinning ceremony for his service in the U.S. Navy last Monday.
Bill and I became friends when we were both in the Channahon-Minooka Rotary Club. Bill was awarded the President’s Lifetime Achievement award in 2007, the same year I was incoming president. I am proud to say I was one of several who unanimously voted to honor Bill.
Bill always came to the 7 a.m. meetings with a smile on his face and laughter in his heart. And I am so happy to see that while he’s not as mobile as he once was, his great smile and warm heart are still here.
Before joining the Channahon-Minooka Rotary Club, Bill was a member of the Joliet club, where he served as president in 1985.
Bill asked me to give a shout out to all his Rotarian friends, whom he misses dearly. “I’m doing good for the shape I’m in,” he said with a laugh.
Family and friends gathered at Bill’s Minooka home to celebrate not only a milestone birthday, but to pay tribute to him as a veteran.
Joliet Area Community Hospice recognizes veterans with a special pinning ceremony performed by volunteer veterans.
While Bill is in hospice home care, he is doing good, said son Jeff Wunderlich.
Bill’s family members and a few friends came to be a part of the ceremony. Some came from as far away as Florida, Philadelphia and Colorado.
Each of Bill’s five adult children was presented with certificates as a thank-you for their support of the veteran in their family. They, and Bill, were also pinned with an American flag.
Hospice volunteer veterans Tom Naughton (Marines) and Larry Koppen (Navy) conducted the ceremony, with Koppen reading what it means to be a true sailor and a true shipmate while patriotic music played in the background.
Bill joined the U.S. Navy in 1944. His tank landing ship USS LST 876 left Evansville, Ind., followed rivers to the Pacific Ocean and landed in Okinawa, Japan, in May 1945.
“We were the first wave to go on Okinawa,” Bill said. “We opened the doors of the ship and they told us to make smoke. They didn’t want the air fighters to know where we were.”
Bill was visibly touched as a U.S. Navy flag was draped on his lap. Later in the ceremony, he was presented with a certificate of appreciation. Naughton and Koppen then unfolded an American flag that had flown over the Capitol in honor of an Army captain who lost his life in a conflict at Guadalcanal.
They held the flag, saluting Bill, until “The Star-Spangled Banner” finished playing. After the flag was folded properly, they presented it to Bill. He was moved to tears.
“God Bless America and all the veterans, especially the veterans who lost their lives,” Bill said. “God bless those who were fortunate enough to come home and all our future vets.”
Following the ceremony, Koppen showed Bill a video on an iPad of the only tank landing ship in existence similar to the one Bill served on. It is stationed in Evansville, where Bill had boarded his ship.
Before the day was over, everyone enjoyed ice cream bars from Dairy Queen and Bill had his favorite Mudslide.
The pinning ceremony is a way to honor the veteran and to pass on some of their history, said Jodi Wulff, business development coordinator at Hospice.
For Bill Wunderlich, it was a day of great happiness and appreciation for the country he served and those who took the time to honor him.
“I couldn’t have dreamt of anything like this,” he said.
Reach Kris Stadalsky at email@example.com.