Morton Grove and American Legion Post 134 can’t do enough, big or small, for U.S. Navy recruits every Thanksgiving at the post’s headquarters, 6140 Dempster St.
Like Mayor Dan Staackmann going out for a paper run. Staackmann could only talk for a minute as he rushed out the front door on a newspaper run. He realized the 42 recruits from Great Lakes Training Base, attending the sixth annual holiday program at the post, had been out of touch with the world while going through boot camp. He returned a few minutes later with a stack of Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times copies.
“This has become a tradition for Morton Grove put on by the American Legion post,” said Staackmann. “I strong advised people to come out here because what you’re seeing is a reinstatement of the faith in the young people in America. These are good kids with a great attitude that want to do good things for the country and the future.”
Restaurants, companies donate food, phone calls, video games
The community and corporate supporters banded together to provide the rookie swabbies with a holiday break from the rigors of basic training.
They ate turkey from Kappy’s Restaurant, other foodstuffs from Produce World, apple and pumpkin pies from Costco and assorted home-baked sweets from Morton Grove residents. They called home free via a phone bank from AT & T, played video games supplied by Abt and listened to entertainment provided by post members. And they enjoyed eye candy with another annual appearance from the Chicago Rush Dancers.
Most of all, the trainees appreciated the hospitality that they didn’t expect even waking up Thanksgiving morning.
Loss for words on hospitality
“There’s not a word to describe this,” said recruit Raymond Dugan of Oak Ridge, N.J.
“I’m in awe – I was not expecting this. I can talk for my division. We really appreciate this.”
The timing was just right for a pick-me-up, mentally and gastronomically. Many of the sailors are coping with being away from home in an extended manner for the first time. For Dugan, it was an even greater challenge. Calling his close-knit family “the wolfpack,” Dugan could not break away from training to help the home folks, who suffered roof damage and a week without power from Hurricane Sandy – more than two hours away from the ocean.
Away from home during Storm Sandy
“I wasn’t there to help them,” said Dugan. “But they support me 100 percent.” He is the first member of his family to serve in the military.
Dugan got to talk to a local Navy family, so to speak. Marge and Noble Lehew, 50-year Morton Grove residents, saw their daughter, now a physician in North Carolina, get her medical training as a Naval flight surgeon.
“I think it’s wonderful the post is doing this.”
For the second straight year, mild holiday weather surprised some recruits. Chicago’s reputation made them believe they’d be trudging through snowdrifts to the post.
“I was expecting cold,” said recruit Michael Casey of Houston.
Jam session for vet, recruit
The post veterans and trainees connected through the generations. By the stage, post official Ray Ariaz, an Air Force Vietnam veteran, and recruit David Modesto of Miami had an informal jam session strumming “God Bless America” on their guitars. Ariaz has played at Hines Veterans Hospital for 15 years.
“He’s real good,” Modesto said of his new-found musical partner.
Any Great Lakes chief would be astonished at the lightning speed at which the sailors broke away from playing video games and other activities to assemble behind the Rush Dancers to pose for photos and videos. Several sailors then briefly showed off their push-up talents.
Thanksgiving event organizer Casey Bachara also introduced September Matthiessen to the gathering. Matthiessen will report to Great Lakes Feb. 26 for training. She had no shortage of sailors willing to preview the rigors of boot camp.
All the recruits knew to enjoy their holiday outing while it lasted. They would work off the spike in calories immediately upon return to Great Lakes later in the day. Training and demanding petty officers do not take a break.
“The chiefs want to make sure we do our routine,” said Casey. “We know what we’re supposed to do. We’re going to work off the food tonight. There are no short cuts. We’ll do ‘PT’ – physical training.”