MARION — More than 10 years ago, veterans from the Marion VFW 1301 created a memorial garden off the parking lot of their hall, installing a large wall of duplicated dog tags of servicemen and women and two stone monuments that paid tribute to Korean and Vietnam War vets.

The goal was always to install one for WWII veterans, but somehow the organizers never got around to it.

Until now.

On Saturday, what would be the 72nd year of the ending of World War II, the Marion VFW 1301 will install a monument that specifically pays homage to the men and women who sacrificed lives, families and time to keeping the world and this country safe from tyranny.

The event begins at 2 p.m. at the Marion VFW 1301, 201 Longstreet Road off IL-37. All veterans, particularly WWII veterans, are invited to that event, as are their children and grandchildren, said Mike Gunter, a Vietnam vet who is helping lead that effort to install the monument.

“It’s not that they’ve been forgotten,” Gunter said. “Our intent has always been to do that.”

Gunter noted that the number of WWII veterans is quickly diminishing, as they age and die. In the past six months, he said this area has lost at least nine WWII veterans of which he is aware.

“We owe so much to these guys,” Gunter said. “We can never ever, ever repay what World War II guys did. ... It wasn’t just the men that went off and fought, it was also the people left here at home.“

Gunter’s own father was a WWII veteran, participating in the Normandy Invasion and the Battle of St. Lo and the Battle of the Bulge; his mother, he said, left Zeigler to go to Detroit to work in a converted-car factory helping to make airplanes.

One of those who will be honored on Saturday will be Ernest Rinella, a 92-year-old U.S. Navy radio operator who served aboard the U.S.S. Wyoming in the Atlantic Ocean from 1943 to 1946. He came back from the war and married his wife, Mary Ellen, with whom he had two sons, Ronnie and David; his wife died in 1992. He now has two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“I’m so darned overwhelmed,” Rinella said, his thick silvery-white hair under a black baseball cap with the lettering “WWII Veteran” in goldenrod yellow stitching, two small American flag pins in the middle of his hat.

“It’s time that we really had one, and it shows appreciation,” Rinella said, using a tissue Gunter gave him to dab at eyes. “I didn’t really feel that bad (that the WWII group didn’t have one) ... it’s just a good thing.”

Gunter said the men kept this country and world safe from destructive dictators and then came home and resumed their lives, along the way, building up this country into a model and leader.

The public is also invited to this event, which will feature patriotic music being played by the Marion High School Band and a luncheon, compliments of Golden Eagle Distributors, Larry’s House of Cakes, Old Charley and Grumpy's Barbeque.

For more information, those interested should call 618-997-1188.

stephanie.esters@thesouthern.com

618-351-5805

On Twitter: @scribeest

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Reporter

Stephanie Esters is a reporter covering Jackson and Union counties.

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