“They Gave Their Lives In War That We Might Live In Peace.”
Those are the words on Evanston’s Memorial Wall at Fountain Square, words above the names of some 400 Evanstonians who have died in America’s wars, dating back to the Civil War.
The first of those names is Charles S. Bailey, in the Civil War roster.
The latest, on the wall for just the past two weeks, is Matthew Charles Hays Freeman, killed in Afghanistan in 2009.
“August 7, 2009,” to be exact, recalled Mark Hays, father of the fallen Marine.
Mark Hays said his son was “an impressive guy,” a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and a pilot who volunteered for ground duty in Afghanistan.
“He was in country 17 days,” Dad explained, “on a recon patrol.”
The Marine captain “was calling in air support for his squad,” Dad said, “when he was killed in action,” at age 29.
Because Matthew was a child of divorced parents, he spent some of his childhood in Evanston, and some in another community.
But his family said the Evanston portion made it absolutely right for the name Matthew Charles Hays Freeman to be engraved on the Fountain Square wall,along with the names of Evanston’s other fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen.
“We lobbied to get him put on the wall,” Dad said, and thanks then-mayor Stephen Hagerty for making it happen.
Most of the people with names on the wall, like Matthew Charles Hays Freeman, lost their lives well before they could make a mark as civilians, or perhaps in a long-term military career.
“The vast majority of fallen heroes are young,” noted Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, an Air Force veteran who addressed the crowd.
“They are the people who protected freedom.”
Memorial Day actually has a connection to a Chicago neighborhood not far from Evanston, or at least to the person whose name is attached to that community.
In 1868, General John Logan, an Illinois native (for whom Chicago’s Logan Square was named) called for a nationwide day of remembrance for those killed in the Civil War. “Decoration Day,” as it was called at the time, later became Memorial Day, honoring the men and women who died in all of the nation’s wars, not just the Civil War.
There had been isolated, local observances before Logan’s 1868 call, including one in Charleston, South Carolina, by recently freed Black slaves in 1865.
While Memorial Day’s purpose is to honor the war dead, the Evanston ceremony also recognized local veterans who have passed away since Memorial Day in 2021. Eight members of American Legion Post 42 were remembered.
Young people also had a role in the ceremony.
18-year-old Vivian Steinke, and 17-year-old Paul Heinke played “Taps” on their trumpets.
Vivian’s grandfather served in the Navy during the Vietnam War period. Still alive, but living out of town, “he’d be pretty proud to see me playing Taps,” Vivian said.
Paul said he first heard “Taps” when he was eight or nine years old. The short and simple song is actually quite difficult to play, Paul explained, because a bugle is the traditional instrument, where there are no valves to help play each different note.
“It’s a very meaningful song,” he added.
Those honored on Memorial Day were killed by weapons of war. At this Memorial Day ceremony, there was also a moment of silence for the 19 children and two teachers slain not on a battlefield, but in a school in Uvalde, Texas, last week by a murderer who used an assault-style weapon of war.