Local veterans are trying to raise funds for the upkeep and possible re-design of the Gold Star Memorial in Guthrie Park and return about a dozen recently found Gold Star certificates to family members of fallen Riverside servicemen.

American Legion Post #488 gave the village $5,000 last year to jumpstart the process, and post members are now working with village officials to move the process forward. Parts of the memorial are sinking into the ground and Village President Ben Sells said the Landscape Advisory Commission is spearheading the effort to determine what renovations are necessary, including landscaping, cleaning and stabilizing the current memorial.

“It’s a sacred space,” Sells said. “We all believe deeply it deserves to be kept in good shape.” He cautioned that the group is still in the early stages of the process but mentioned it’s a project he’s wanted to complete since 2013.

“This has been on the list of things to do since I became president,” Sells said. “Our staff has just been working around the clock on other stuff.”

Specific plans and total cost have yet to be determined, but Sells said it is likely the memorial’s current footprint at Guthrie Park will remain the same. 

If donations are unable to cover the entire cost, then the village board could vote to appropriate taxpayer funds. Although the village is accepting donations now, Sells said he wants the project to be more fully formed before reaching out to residents. The village sent out information about the effort in a recent newsletter.

Sells and American Legion Post #488 Commander Joe Topinka both gave Memorial Day 2018 as a goal for completion of the project.

“We have veterans in our community and they have a story to tell,” said Topinka, who was elected post commander in October 2016. “I’m pushing it as something I think is critical.”

Topinka said memorials can be helpful in teaching community members about the sacrifices veterans make, and they serve as a remembrance for fallen servicemen.

“They gave their lives in a war and they were from Riverside,” Topinka said, referring to the individual names inscribed at Guthrie Park. “Right now, my sense is there are a lot of people who want to learn what veterans have done. What better way than a memorial?”

Topinka is also working on returning about a dozen Gold Star certificates to family members. Gold Star certificates are given to families of servicemen killed in action. The certificates were recently discovered in the home of a local post member. Topinka said he is working with genealogists at the Riverside Public Library to help find families and bring closure.

“These have been left behind and we don’t want them to be any longer,” Topinka said of the certificates. “I just don’t like unfinished business.”

American Legion Gold Star Citations

American Legion Post #488 is looking for family members of the following fallen servicemen:

Lt. John Neal D. Smith

Capt. Keith A. Orsinger

Lt. Richard Jicka

Pfc. George D. Bohaty

Lt. Mark W. Castle

Pfc. Burt L. Krusger

Pfc. Donald C. Lundgren

A/C Robert H. MacFarlane

S/Sgt. Harry P. Martini

A/C Thomas McCue

Cpl. Jack L. Thatcher

Lt. Graham Treslor

Lt. John T. Warner

S/Sgt. Merle F. Wolfe