Each of the more than 2,000 soldiers and their family members buried at Fort Sheridan Post Cemetery tells a story of how the U.S. has been forged.
Living family members share their histories while careful documentation dating to the 1800s tells more. But some facts are best told by the bits of information on a grave stone, a whispering wind and an imagination.
Mark Diaz visited the cemetery in his battle dress uniform, or fatigues, on Memorial Day. He retired from the U.S. Navy, where he was an aviation ordnanceman.
"Every year I hear 'Taps,'" said Diaz, who served as the Midwest funeral detail coordinator for all veterans choosing a military funeral and had helped lay more than 100 soldiers to rest.
His is just one of the many stories that can be gathered at the cemetery. Here is stroll through some of others:
Indian Wars vets, 1876
Three soldiers who served in the 7th Cavalry with Gen. George Custer after the Civil War and during the Indian Wars are buried at the cemetery. However, it is not known if they were involved in Custer's last charge at the Battle of Little Bighorn in Montana in 1876. It appears one helped to bury Custer.
Cavalryman killed in action, 1899
Just 19 years old, Irving Henry Palmer was killed in 1899 at or just after the end of the Spanish-American War, which resulted in the U.S. controlling the Philippine and Cuba islands. The Spanish-American War was fairly short, ending with U.S. victories on most every front despite reportedly good performance by Spanish infantry and resulting in the end of the Spanish Empire.
German POW, 1944
Kurt Roessger is one of nine German prisoners of war buried at Fort Sheridan Cemetery. Little is known about the captured SS soldier, but a fair amount is known about him and his comrades. From 1944-46, the fort was an inbound processing center for thousands of POWs. Some were sent to help farmers, loggers and companies throughout the Midwest. Some were put to use to build the fort's barracks and the chapel at Great Lakes Naval Station. They were given proper burials.
A British Royal Army private liberated from a Japanese prison camp and who later died at Camp Grant in Rockford, IL, is the only other foreign soldier buried at the cemetery.
WW II Navy vet, after 2001 attacks
Cheryl Blaney came from Johnsburg with her husband, Jim, to visit the grave site of her father, Wayne Kurtz.
Kurtz was a career Navy man who retired as a boatswain's mate chief. He fought in World War II and the Korean War. He participated in the Normandy invasion of Europe, which the family didn’t know until watching the movie Saving Private Ryan with him. Thirty minutes into the film, Kurtz said, “Yup, that’s the way it was.”
His high school sweetheart--Blaney’s mom--is buried alongside him. They were stationed throughout the world, and Blaney and her sister were often in tow.
“They loved the military life,” Blaney said of her parents. “My sister and I were fortunate to go [to] a lot of places with them.”
Kurtz died two weeks after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“Our last conversation, he was comparing what happened after Pearl Harbor and the way our country came together and the way the country came together in 2001,” his daughter recalled.
Waukegan soldier in Iraq War, 2005
Army 1st Lt. David Giaimo, 24, of Waukegan, was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, GA. He was killed Aug. 12, 2005, when his Humvee hit a land mine in Tikrit, Iraq. Giaimo was a National Honors Society student, a champion marksman, shortstop and catcher on the varsity baseball team and a lifelong White Sox fan.
He is one of the most recently to die in action and interred at Fort Sheridan Cemetery.
Helped in Rhine crossing against Hitler
Born in 1923, Henry Cantwell was drafted out of high school into the Army and became a career soldier. He would eventually retired as a master sergeant.
His children, David Cantwell and Deborah Brown, visited the cemetery on Memorial Day, just two years shy of their father's death on June 4, 2009. They recalled his heroism.
The Cantwell children said their dad was very proud to serve his country, having fought at the Battle of the Bulge, the largest, costliest battle for U.S. forces during World War II. The Germans tried to split the American and British lines, but the Allied forces battled back and eventually defeated their attackers in fighting from Dec. 16, 1944, through Jan. 25, 1945.
A member of Gen. George Patton’s army, Kurtz’s engineering group built the pontoon bridge across the Rhine River. The makeshift span enabled Patton's forces to make an attack on Hitler's forces in Remagen. Unfortunately, Kurtz lost some of his crew when the original bridge collapsed.
“It was after the war was over that he met this Czechoslovakian refugee in Vienna, and she proved to be his wife--my mom,” David Cantwell said with a wistful smile as he looked off toward the lake.
Their mom lives in Crystal Lake and is active in the American Legion, Cantwell said.
“This was Fort Sheridan. We lived here. This was home." he said.
"He loved the lake, the [iconic] tower, he loved the woods and birds here,” Cantwell said of his father.
At one point, the family discussed where Henry Cantwell would be buried: Arlington National Cemetery, Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery or the family's cemetery in Wisconsin. In the end, they decided Fort Sheridan was the best choice.
The cemetery was once part of Fort Sheridan, which opened in 1887, served as the headquarters for the Fifth Army and was closed in 1993 as part of the Pentagon's base reduction program. The site is now owned by the U.S. Army’s Fort McCoy and operated by Lake County Forest Preserves.
The Fort Sheridan Post Cemetery–not among the National Cemetery or Veterans Administration's burial sites–is open year round.