Veterans take center stage in Fourth of July festivities

Lindsay Ellis

Harold L. Miller, an 89-year-old World War II veteran, remembers the moment he learned Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor.

He said he was watching a Chicago Bears football game on Dec. 7, 1941, with three friends. An announcer interrupted the game. “These are the exact words. They’re part of my life: ‘We interrupt this program to bring you a special announcement. Unidentified warplanes are bombing Pearl Harbor. We will bring you information as it is received.'”That night, Miller wandered the chilly streets of downtown Chicago.

On Sunday, Miller walked down Central Street in Evanston’s Fourth of July parade, warmed by the cheers of spectators. He was one of several veterans, each with a story and an individual perspective, who attended the city’s 89th celebration.

Charles Wallace, 63, of Simpsonville, Ky., attended his second Evanston Fourth of July parade on Sunday. He volunteered for the Vietnam War in December, 1967, and served four years active duty and six on reserve as a 1st Class hospital corpsman.

Millions celebrated the nation’s freedom on Sunday, but Wallace said that war veterans have a distinct perspective on Independence Day. “It’s hard for anybody else who hasn’t served in that kind of a restricted environment … to understand. You give up a lot of your freedom to preserve the freedom of everybody else. There’s hardly any way for anybody else to relate to that, unless they’ve really sacrificed.”

While Wallace said the public supports today’s soldiers and veterans, it wasn’t always the case. Fifty years ago, he said, “People were not only anti-Vietnam War … We were looked down on.” But during Sunday’s parade, Wallace said he was proud of his service.

Ron Novales, 82, of Evanston, experienced a similar sense of pride as he watched floats progress down Central Street. A Korean War era veteran, Novales served in the 47th Armored Medical Battalion from 1953 to 1955. He wore a hat embroidered with “Korean War Veteran” and “Forever Proud.”

“I really feel proud to carry this hat. I feel that I was honored to have an opportunity to serve in the Army,” Novales said. During his two years serving stateside as a clerk, Novales was promoted to corporal.

Earlier Sunday, Miller and Wallace visited the former residence of their friend and fellow veteran Bernard Baum, who had volunteered in World War II and lived on Central Street before his death in 2008. Miller taped an American flag to a lamppost outside Baum’s old apartment, as he does every year since Baum’s death, to honor the veteran.

Miller said, “Everyone likes heroes. We are not heroes. We are survivors.”Lindsay Ellis is a student in the journalism division of Northwestern University’s National High School Institute.