Oak Lawn man, 95, celebrated for D-Day service, service to community

OAK LAWN, Ill. (WLS) -- Bob Wilcox has seen a great deal of good in his life. He's also seen a great deal of bad.

Thursday marks the 75th anniversary of one of those bad moments: D-Day, the largest military invasion in history.

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The 75th anniversary of D-Day is June 6, 2019.

Wilcox was on Omaha Beach 75 years ago as part of D-Day's second wave. Like many on the beach that day, he was practically a kid - 18 years old.

The shelling was endless. Death surrounded him.

"You start thinking, 'What the heck am I doing here? Why should I be here?'" he said. "You do it, and you just gotta figure you're gonna have to do it. You know, you got no choice."

Like many, he was separated from his unit with no idea where he was headed. He followed into the worst of it.

Wilcox survived D-Day but in vicious hedgerow fighting just over a month later, shrapnel from an artillery shell ripped open his right shoulder. He spent more than a year in the hospital healing from a near-fatal, life-changing wound.

"I can't raise that arm," he said, demonstrating.

He's nearly 95 now; his long life defined by much more than the combat he endured.

The Oak Lawn street where the Wilcox family has lived for decades is now designated in his honor. A ceremony last month saluted a humble man much beloved in his community. He was a scoutmaster for 40 years and a steadfast supporter of veterans, especially Vietnam vets who were made to feel unwelcome upon returning home.

Wilcox's life has a touch of fame for something else. Wilcox worked for years as an optician and was called upon in 1959 to quickly make a pair of glasses for a young Queen Elizabeth II on her visit to Chicago.

"And when she went by the store we went out on Michigan Avenue and she did wave at us. She knew where the store was," he said.

Another famous customer was a revered broadcaster who wanted really, really big glasses.

"When it was time to put the new lenses in, he said, 'That ain't that big.' I says, 'OK, I'll see what I can do,'" Wilcox said.

And so he did it. Harry Caray's signature stretched frames were the work of one Bob Wilcox.

He celebrates a long life, having survived the bad and filled his years with insurmountable good.
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