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A special place for Purple Hearts

Monument dedicated in Veterans Memorial Park

DIXON – Tom Whelan, a four-time Purple Heart recipient, teared up Sunday when a monument honoring veterans killed or wounded in war was dedicated in Veterans Memorial Park.

“I think it’s outstanding,” said Whelan, 63, of Dixon. “I’m very proud of it, very proud, especially thinking about all the men that died or saved us, and all the guys who got wounded. I know what they went through.”

Whelan served in the Army in Vietnam from 1967 to 1970. He was with the 173rd Airborne Brigade doing long-range reconnaissance.

He was one of several Purple Heart recipients to attend the unveiling of the 16-square-foot monument.

The Dixon veteran who donated the money for the monument wishes to remain anonymous, Veterans Park President Jim James said.

The donor saw a similar stone during travels, James said.

“It means that there’s something that can be honored and respected by the men and women who’ve been given the Purple Heart forever,” James said of the monument. “It plays an important part in our community.”

The memorial also can be a tool to teach local children about the history of area veterans, he said. “That can include fathers, grandfathers, sisters, aunts.”

One side of the monument reads, “You have never lived until you have almost died. For those who have fought for it, life has a flavor the protected will never know.”

The other side has two inscriptions. One reads, “Dedicated to all men and women wounded in all our wars.”

Next to it are verses: “The medal I bear is my country’s way to show they care. If I could be seen by all mankind, maybe peace will come in my lifetime.”

“I think it’s great,” said Al Wikoff, 69, of Dixon. “I’m really glad that an individual took it upon himself to make sure the new park has one.”

Wikoff served in a logistical unit in the Army in Vietnam from 1966 to 1968.

“I think the wording on that is ... the feeling that a lot of people who were awarded the Purple Heart, I think that’s how they feel.”

In an earlier ceremony Sunday, Maj. Gen. Kendall W. Penn, from the Rock Island First Army unit, addressed a crowd and discussed the efforts that have been made to ensure veterans have job opportunities.

President Barack Obama last year directed the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to redesign the military’s transition assistance program for the first time in more than 20 years. Still, more than 720,000 veterans of all generations remain unemployed, Penn said.

“The numbers are getting better, but we still have a long way to go and challenges to overcome,” he said.

Penn,  a First Army deputy commanding general, talked about practical ways people can honor veterans: encourage businesses to hire veterans and military family members, encourage veteran-related organizations to register with the national resource directory, and volunteer with such organizations.

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