CHICAGO - As the nation honor its veterans this week, a ceremony was held Thursday to decommission a longtime memorial in Chicago that pays tribute to fallen soldiers. The memorial in the Dan Ryan Woods will be restored, then relocated.
The area near 87th and Western in the Beverly neighborhood is as bustling as it is beautiful. The Dan Ryan Woods are right there - a testament to how this city values natural spaces. But hidden in the woods for decades was something that never should have been forgotten. Its discovery now - at this time of year - reminds us to never forget. It's a long-forgotten place to go, remember and heal.
Perhaps a century after it was put up by a group calling itself the Chicago Council of Gold Star Mothers, a 4-foot-high monolith that once displayed a sizeable plaque is decommissioned -- but to rise again.
"It has a rebirth. It is going to be bigger, it'll be better and the mothers will be remembered," said former Chicago alderman and Marine James Balcer.
Those mothers were presumably the sorrowful souls who lost children in World War I, before the American Council of Gold Star Mothers was even formed. Their heirs are pledging to be their voice again, including a woman who played in these woods as a child, and lost her son in war five years ago.
"We serve veterans and their families as part of our healing and it is part of our mission. Does that work for you? It works great for me," said Modie Lavin, a Gold Star mother.
The monument was uncovered over the last few years as the Cook County Forest Preserve cut back invasive species. Now through public and private money, it will be restored and eventually moved across 87th Street to a place of honor by the local visitor's center. Sandy Ochsner's son James died fighting in Afghanistan 12 years ago.
"This is wonderful to honor whoever put this up," Ochsner said.
"Is that a reminder to us to never forget? People forget, I have never forgotten, the sacrifices to this country, the men and women that have died for it we should all remember," Balcer said.
"The loss of a child is grand for us and to have these mothers most likely in this area of Chicago to erect this in memory of their sons, and that connection as I stand here today in 2017 is quite magical," Lavin said.
Research suggests the monument went up sometime in the 1920s, but before 1928, when the Chicago Council of Gold Star Mothers would have been absorbed into the national organization we know today. But there are really no records to speak of.
If the slab of stone can't be repaired, it will be reimagined into a new monument, probably costing all in $150,000 to $200,000.