MORRIS – The dedication ceremony for the Morris WWII Submarine Veterans Memorial took place Saturday afternoon at Canal Port Plaza in Morris.
The memorial, which was erected by Submarine Veterans: USS Chicago Base of the United States Submarine Veterans Inc., stands at the north entrance to the bridge over the Illinois and Michigan Canal in the plaza.
Following the Pledge of Allegiance, led by David Harris, vice commander of USS Chicago Base, and the National Anthem, sung by Reagan McDaniel of Morris Community High School, commander of USS Chicago Base John Connon gave the introduction.
Connon said that after completing their training in Lake Michigan, 28 submarines built in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, traveled on the Illinois River, passing through Morris on their way to the Pacific Theater in World War II. Four of these submarines were lost, and 330 officers and enlisted men perished.
He then said that our nation’s submarine service in WWII made up only 2% of the US Navy fleet operating in the Pacific. However, they sank more than 50% of Japanese shipping. This accomplishment was overshadowed by the loss of 52 submarines and 3,000 officers and men.
“This ceremony is a time to set apart a particular place in order to honor and memorialize these submarine veterans that served our country in wartime,” Connon said. “Veterans come from all walks of life, but they all share several qualities. Courage, pride, determination, selflessness, dedication to duty, integrity. One needs these qualities in order to serve a greater cause than one’s self.
“Our liberties and values stand safe today because of the brave men and women who have been ready to face the fire. We thank God for each and every one of them. We are surrounded by the spirits of those who have served our country. Those who have sacrificed so much for the freedom that we enjoy to this day.”
Next to speak was James Wilkins, who served in both WWII and Korea.
“We gather here this morning in a challenging time and the strangest experience to honor these 28 submarines and their crews that passed this location on the Illinois River over 75 years ago,” he said. “As you know, this is the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII, where we lost 500,000 veterans. On behalf of the veterans who passed on the river here and those we lost in WWII, thank you, God Bless America and bring us through this current crisis.”
Connon and Wilkins then unveiled the memorial before Morris Mayor Richard Kopczick spoke.
“On behalf of the city of Morris and myself, we are proud to be able to have a spot that has such prominent place where traffic and foot traffic will be able to actually see this and appreciate it,” Kopczick said. “This is about more than just submarines. It is about the spirit of America. The Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company was granted a contract in September of 1943 for 10 submarines. They put out the first one 228 days before it was due. They were then granted another contract for more boats. They ultimately put 28 boats in the water, and they were completed in the same time that the 10 were supposed to be done. Quite an accomplishment.
“They also came in $5 million under the contract price. Those ships that went by Morris on the Illinois River went on to sink 126 Japanese vessels during WWII. Sadly, four were lost with all hands. It is a pleasure to have this memorial here in Morris so that people will realize what it takes as a nation to continue to strive to protect and to remember always, that freedom is not free.”
Next to speak was state representative David Welter of Morris, who represents the 75th district.
Welter began by quoting Franklin D. Roosevelt, saying, “I do not look upon these United States as a finished product. We are still in the making.”
Welter said those words still ring true today.
“Some might tell you that we have lost our spark of patriotism,” he said. “That America’s best days have gone. We simply have to settle for mediocrity. Those people are wrong. What’s so beautiful about today and this memorial is that it preserves a moment in history. A moment when our country was bound and determined to succeed. It didn’t matter if you were a Republican, Democrat or independent. We were Americans fighting for a more perfect union. A shining city upon a hill, as Ronald Reagan said.
“The memory of those WWII submarine veterans will continue to live on. Not just in the history books or stories passed from one generation to the next. Their memories will live on in memorials like this one.
“I will leave you with this last thought. Sept. 11, 2001, was 19 years ago, and it was my generation’s greatest tragedy. We remember that day, the anger associated with those events. I ask that we also find in ourselves to act as we did, not on Sept. 11, but on the day after, Sept. 12. I remember, I am sure you do, too. Let’s be more like that America. A country of unity and solidarity. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.”
Next to speak was Congressman Adam Kinzinger, who is the U.S. Representative from Illinois’ 16th district and served in the Air Force in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He currently serves as a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard.
Kinzinger thanked his fellow veterans in the audience of approximately 100 people for their service.
“The service is not the same,” he said. “I love flying an airplane. I don’t think I would love being on a submarine. It took a very special group of people with an intense dedication to be able to do that.”
He said that during WWII, submarine crew members had about one foot of storage for a 75-day journey. He also noted that they showered maybe once every 10 days and had a unique smell.
“I want to particularly point out what went on prior to WWII,” he said. “America was just coming off a global pandemic. There were some economic challenges. Actually, in 1939 and all the way, frankly, to the full implementation to the U.S. involvement in WWII, it was a very divided country. There were people on all lengths of the political spectrum and through a terrible economy, a terrible pandemic 20 years prior, there was no way the US would be ever be able to unite. In fact, we did. Not just thinking about the men and women who answered the call to service in a uniform, but if you think about the men and women that responded to the call of the economy.
“If you go to the Joliet Arsenal, or go anywhere and see all the history of the stuff that built things that was built in about two months. An entire generation of Americans stepped up and won the war because of our bravery and commitment and focus.
“Those that served in the submarines don’t get enough credit. 5.3 million tons of goods were intercepted and destroyed. What that could have done to our men fighting in Europe and the Pacific. Think about 504 airmen, including future President George H.W. Bush, that were rescued at sea by submarines. Think about the amazing, amazing character of these men who served. It’s an honor to be able to stand up here and relay some of that to you. I only found that by researching it. I could never experience what that was like.
“The fact that 375 officers and 3,131 enlisted men were killed. It was the lowest percentage of people lost on any side of the conflict.
“It was the people that made the victory possible.”
Kinzinger then thanked those that served in WWII, Vietnam, Korea and the wars since.
“I particularly think of WWII,” he said. “A generation that arose from their quiet life to define a generation, to embolden the United States as a leader in the world, and to change the entire world by their service. They didn’t know what they were going to do, but, looking back, every one of them were heroes in my book.”
Following an invocation by Chaplain of USS Chicago Base James Daniels, the Morris Color Guard provided a gun salute and Sgt. Steve Huettemann of the Morris Police Department played TAPS on the trumpet.