Park Ridge Honors WWII Service PersonnelHodges Park Honor Roll Remembered
Toward the end of 1942, as the war in Europe and the Pacific entered its second year, the Mel Tierney American Legion Post Auxiliary unit compiled a complete record of the sons, daughters and husbands of its Members serving in our country’s war effort, and began sending home town holiday greeting cards to all of them. Thus began a larger effort to honor and respect all Park Ridgeans engaged in the defense of the United States. Under the guidance of Legion vice Commander Victor Soderberg, a walnut plaque was prepared to display the names of the first 56 service personnel so identified by the Auxiliary, with each name embossed on a small bronze plate attached to the plaque. The plaque was installed in the Legion Hall on Grace Street, just north of Touhy Avenue.
This effort was so well received that the Legion began collecting names of all Park Ridgeans serving in the military, as supplied by their family members at home. The Legion’s Service Men’s Committee joined the effort, and all such names were also entered into an index card system, and newspaper clippings for each person attached to their index card as they were published. These records were retained and are likely the basis for the Park Ridge Library’s Mel Tierney American Legion Post Archive. Names of service personnel were also supplied through the Selective Service System.
A as the weeks and months went on with the extended war effort, there was an increasing call for more Park Ridgeans to enter the service. It became clear that more and larger plaques would be necessary to hold name plates for all residents in service The Service Men’s Committee worked to find a place of honor to respectfully display the names of all of those residents in a public manner. A community effort arose. A large cabinet was designed and built by the Park Ridge Cabinet Company and the Park Ridge Lumber Company, to hold the now multiple walnut plaques with their bronze name plates, thanks to funding by the Legion, Kiwanis Club and Chamber of Commerce. The Park Ridge Park District provided space in Hodges Park for the cabinet.
An early black and white photograph of the Honor Roll, with the ‘Remember Them, Write Them’ side bars, shows the cabinet in Hodges Park. It was located in the same place where now stands the 1965 WWII Memorial in Hodges Park, as confirmed in a 1951 aerial image.
Under the direction of Legion Commander Rufus Holbrook, the Park Ridge Honor Roll was dedicated on Sunday, July 9, 1944. Guests included Mayor James Tierney, John Carroll, President of the Chamber of Commerce, Frank Rehder, President of the Park Ridge Park Board, and W. F. Argabrite, President of the Kiwanis Club. Arthur Tyre and Alf Rosnes of the Legion Servicemen’s Committee were also guests. Rev. Walter Spangler of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church delivered the Invocation, and Rector John Hubbard of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church was the Speaker.
In April, 1945, Albert Buchheit, Park Ridge’s first Mayor, arranged for exterior and interior illumination of the Honor Roll. By that time the names of over 1,200 Park Ridgeans had been entered on bronze name plates in the Honor Roll cabinet. Gold stars were added to name plates in an instance of a wartime service casualty.
Speaking of Victor Soderberg, his family cultivated a Victory Garden during the war. The Society contributed the photograph on display at the Park Ridge Library this August, showing Mr. Soderberg with his wife Grace and children Roger and Nancy at work in their garden on the farmland at the Park Ridge School for Girls, one of many gardens set up there through his work with the Boy Scouts in Park Ridge. The display is well worth a visit. Other items were contributed by the Society, and we especially thank Society friends Dan Uscian for loan of copies of the Douglas Airview News, Bob Peacock for donation of the WWII Civil Defense Helmet and Steve Dunn for the model of the ‘Maine Flyer’ C-54 Skymaster.
The final fate of the Honor Roll is unknown. Obviously it was gone by 1965. We’re told that the name plates were removed from the walnut plaques and offered to each service person. One such resident was U.S. Army Corporal Jim Trecker who recalls that time and proudly retains his Honor Roll name plate to this day.
– Compiled by Paul Adlaf on behalf of The Park Ridge Historical Society 8/1/15