STERLING – It's a solemn, sacred, and historic event, a chance to honor a soldier barely into his manhood, who died on the field of battle and finally will be reunited with his twin, a fellow soldier killed the same day, on the same battlefield.
Few are left to remember, let alone mourn, the life of the Sterling orphan and Korean War Army infantryman Cpl. John G. Krebs, considered missing in action until his remains were identified in December.
That's where you come in.
His casket, managed by a military escort, will arrive around 7 a.m. Wednesday at O’Hare International Airport's Terminal 3, where Schilling Funeral Home will be waiting with a hearse, said Ret. Col. Wayne Kirkpatrick, chairman of the Rolling Thunder Chapter 2, from Wauconda.
The motorcyclists will provide an escort along Interstates 294 and 88 to Rock Falls, where it will arrive around 9:30 a.m. It will travel north on state Route 40/First Avenue to the funeral home at 702 First Ave. in Sterling, where it is set to arrive around 10 a.m.
A short section of Second Street on the Sterling side of First Avenue Bridge, by Plainwell Brass, will be closed for an hour or so, so that ladder trucks from Sterling and Rock Falls fire departments, ladders extended, can fly a large American flag between them.
Members of the public are invited to park or walk, and station themselves in the downtowns along the route in a final show of respect.
Of the 8,156 military personnel missing from the Korean War, which ended 65 years ago, only 494 have been identified, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
Krebs, 19, died in battle in Chochiwon, South Korea on July 11, 1950. He was listed as missing in action because he could not be accounted for after that battle, and was declared dead in 1953.
He will be laid to rest at 1 p.m. Friday at Calvary Cemetery, next to his twin brother George, who died in battle the same day – reportedly after returning to the field to find John.
The motorcycle group will return to lead a 20-minute procession, starting at 12:30 p.m. from the funeral home north to LeFevre Road, then east to the cemetery, funeral director John Paul Schilling said.
The procession will be led by a police car and firetruck escort, followed by an American flag, service flags, POW/MIA flags, Rolling Thunder’s Chapter 2 members then Chapter 4’s members in staggered formation, the hearse, family and guest riders, including members of the Dogs of War Chapter of the Marine Vets motorcycle club.
American Legion Post 296 will have a color guard at the cemetery. Also assisting will be members of the Chadwick, Milledgeville and Rock Falls legions, Schilling said.
Several other veterans groups plan to attend, and area politicians, mayors and other dignitaries have been invited. The public also is welcome to attend.
Students and faculty from Challand Middle School and Jefferson Elementary School, which are along the procession route, will break from their school day and honor Krebs en route. Rolling Thunder will give small POW/MIA flags to the students to wave during the procession.
A reception will take place after the service at American Legion Post 296, 601 First Ave. DeVetta Perkins, Krebs’ niece and next-of-kin, will be presented with a POW/MIA flag and a chapter coin from the Rolling Thunder.
Krebs was born Dec. 11, 1930 in Sterling, and was one of six children of Ferdinand and Doralis Krebs. Not much is known about his personal life, Schilling said.
According to Gazette archives, Krebs and his siblings left Sterling in 1942 to live at the Mount Carmel Orphanage north of Morrison and later at St. Vincent Orphanage in Freeport.
Krebs joined the Army in April 1949. He was a member of Company L, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, Task Force Smith at the time of death, 16 days into the conflict.
Sauk Valley Media reporter Cody Cutter contributed to this report.