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Lyons Memorial Day ceremony will remember Vietnam veteran
By Steve Metsch
This year’s observance of Memorial Day in Lyons will feature a new site and an old memory that dates back 50 years.
Because of water main construction on Ogden Avenue, the event is being moved from the Eternal Flame in front of the water pumping station to the front of the Lyons Village Hall, 4200 Lawndale Ave.
“We ask all veterans and all residents to attend. it’s rain or shine, we put it on,” Mayor Christopher Getty said.
The event starts sharp at 11 a.m. Memorial Day, May 30, Getty said.
Charles Gerny, commander of the American Legion Emil Scheive Post 699, said there will be a color guard along with a speech by Getty during the observance.
“It’s important that we remember the women and men who died in the wars for our freedom. We’ve got to pass that on to the next generation so they don’t forget,” Gerny said.
One veteran who is long remembered in Lyons is Sgt. James W. Robinson, Jr., who died in the Vietnam War on April 11, 1966. Those attending on Memorial Day will see a plaque at the village hall that recalls his incredible heroism that resulted in his posthumously receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor.
According to the plaque, Sgt. Robinson, his company in fierce combat with a Viet Cong battalion, used a grenade launcher to eliminate a sniper. He saw a medic shot while helping a wounded soldier, so Robinson dragged the two men to safety, gave them first aid and saved their lives.
As the fight intensified, he was shot in the shoulder and leg but he dragged another wounded soldier to safety. Robinson saw the enemy machinegun nest, grabbed two grenades and approached.
He was shot again, causing his clothing to catch fire. He ripped off the burning clothing and bravely charged the machinegun, hurling the two grenades and destroying the enemy position as he fell dead on the battlefield. Inspired by his efforts, the Americans defeated the enemy force that day.
Sound like a movie? It really happened.
Sgt. Robinson’s younger brother, Tom, 74, said 50 years have gone fast. He’ll always remember his brother as a healthy and strong 25-year-old man who was proud to serve his country.
“You can’t not be impressed by what he did,” Tom said of his brother’s bravery. “It doesn’t seem like 50 years. Of course, my memories of him are of the time we spent together. Time doesn’t pass after that.”
Sgt. Robinson was a graduate of Washington Elementary in Lyons and Morton West High School in Berwyn, where he played the tackle position for the football team.
He first joined the Marines in 1959. After his time with Marines, he opened a karate school near Washington, D.C., where his father had moved, and later decided on a military career and joined the Army. He and Tom were both in the Army and stationed in Panama before Jim was sent to Vietnam in late 1965.
“It’s hard to tell what he’d be like now,” Tom, who lives in Las Vegas, said. “People are shaped by their experiences, but he had aspirations about going through the academy and becoming an officer after Vietnam. He probably would have had a military career and after that, who knows?”
In 1967, Tom and their parents, the late James Sr. and Ethel, went to Washington, D.C., to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. Elm School was renamed Robinson School in October 1967.
“It’s good,” Tom said, “that somebody remembers him after 50 years.”
The 292 students at Robinson School, 4431 S. Gage Ave., won’t soon forget. They see reminders of Robinson every day. Plaques about his heroisms and photos of Sgt. Robinson are on a wall near his Congressional Medal of Honor, the ribbon faded with time. His parents had each received a medal, said Tom, who has their father’s.
Principal Al Molina called Robinson’s story “very inspiring,” noting “he gave his life for his comrades.”
The Robinson story is recounted every year at the school’s Veterans Day ceremony, Molina said. Fifth-grader Kyle Lyth, 11, president of the student council, was impressed by Robinson’s ultimate sacrifice.
School secretary Petra Griffin, of Berwyn, thinks its good the students know the story. “He’s not forgotten. Some of feel he’s watching over us here,” she said.
“Every time I think about him, I think about how he gave up his life for his country, for us to have freedom. People don’t realize how he died. I think he was a just a brave, tough Lyons guy who fought to the end,” Griffin said.
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