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Veterans wave flags to remind people of those who won’t make it home for Christmas

Participants of the 64th National Veterans Day Observance wave U.S. flags at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Nov. 11, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Valentina Lopez)

Tom Stehura came home from serving in the Vietnam War at 7:30 a.m. Christmas Day, 1969.

He beat home the letter he sent his family telling them he had been medically discharged from the Air Force and was on his way back to Wisconsin.

When Stehura showed up at his Lancaster home, he heard his dad grumble and moan as he came to answer the door.

His parents weren’t expecting company so early, especially after having attended midnight mass the night before.

His family was surprised, Stehura said. Before being discharged, Stehura planned to enlist again and continue his work doing aerial reconnaissance in Vietnam.

Being away from family and friends during the holidays is tough, especially for military personnel who are overseas. That’s why the annual December rally at Milton Lawns Memorial Park along Milton Avenue in Janesville is so special, Stehura said.

Stehura, members of the Janesville Patriotic Society and members of the public host rallies at the cemetery four times a year to honor veterans.

The group stands along Milton Avenue, across the street from Pizza Hut, and waves flags the third Saturdays of March, June, September and December.

The December date is most important, Stehura said. People need to remember those who are fighting for freedom and the American lifestyle, which many take for granted, he said.

The scene Saturday morning looked like a small Fourth of July parade with about a dozen people holding large and small American flags along the city’s main roadway. Behind them were evergreen wreaths and red bows dotting the hundreds of gravesites in the cemetery.

Nearly every one of the dozen people waving flags spent time away from home during the holidays while serving in Vietnam, Stehura said.

The air Saturday was cold, just below freezing, but flag wavers didn’t complain. They were cheery and passionate as cars drove past and honked to show support.

Al Pacheco said he comes to every rally because he wants to support the troops. He remembers being away from home in December 1966 because he was serving in the Army in Vietnam.

Pacheco had been married for three years before being deployed. Being away from his wife and family was tough, he said.

Those who get to be home during the holidays do not realize how lucky they are, Pacheco said.

Pacheco plans to spend this Christmas with one of his two daughters who is coming to Janesville from Whitefish Bay.

“Numerous times a day, I tell my daughters I love them. That’s important,” he said.


© 2019 The Janesville Gazette