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Meet a World War II Veteran born in 1921

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Updated, Nov. 17, 2023 / Happy 102nd birthday to Don O’Reilly!

Pictured below, Don O’Reilly again served with the Combined Post Honor Guard during Veterans Day observances at 11AM, Nov. 11.

While Bob Binder played “Taps” during the Final Salute, Don O’Reilly served as flag bearer for the Combined Post Honor Guard during the City’s observance of Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2023, at the Vietnam Wall of Remembrance along the Riverwalk.

Updated Post, Nov. 16, 2021 / Photographer Jim Hoch reports, “Had a great drive-by for Don O’Reilly’s 100th birthday today! Aurora Police Department, Naperville Police Department, Mission BBQ, and many well wishers were a part of the convoy!”

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Jim Hoch’s photos that captured the surprise “drive-by” parade and celebration can be seen with a click here. Be prepared to smile and applaud along with all who wished Don Reilly a happy 100 years. Thanks to all who gave a fitting tribute to a new centenarian, one of 97,000 in the U.S.!
 
Updated Post, Nov. 11, 2021 / Happy Veterans Day! Just a few days shy of his 100th birthday, Don O’Reilly served the Honor Guard during the annual ceremony at Veterans Park. Hosted by American Legion Post 43 and Judd Kendall VFW Post 3873 at 11AM Nov. 11, 2021, the brief ceremony always is a time to pause and reflect about the service and sacrifices of all who serve to protect freedom. Everyone is welcome to attend.  Remember “11-11-11.” 

Later that evening, O’Reilly was feted with a surprise “Happy Birthday to you!” at the Judd Kendall VFW during its annual Veterans Day Dinner. More photos and video clips are available by Jim Hoch.

“Thank you for the flattering story. I am honored.”                                                                                  —Don O’Reilly, Email to PN, Nov. 8, 2021

 

Original Post, Nov. 5, 2021 / PN’s Cover Story for November / Our first one-on-one encounter with Don O’Reilly was during the 2011 Memorial Day Parade when we were out on the beat taking photos of local Veterans. Back then the World War II Veteran who had served with the Army Air Corps (now Air Force) was lining up to walk the parade route. He was 89.

O’Reilly and his family had moved to Naperville from Milwaukee in 1958. He and his late wife, Dorothy, were parents of eight children.

“Dad lives in Aurora now,” added his daughter Kate O”Reilly who filled in details while her father was in Savannah, GA, attending an Air Force Reunion the last week in October, accompanied by his daughter, Colleen Mersman.

“He was an usher at Ss. Peter and Paul, right up until COVID,” Kate said. “There are eight children, 15 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren, many who still live locally. …Our mother died in 2012 at 90 years old!”

We’d see Don O’Reilly at Naperville Municipal Band Concerts as well as local Veterans’ events here and there, but we didn’t know his name or much about him until May 2018 when PN columnist Barbara Blomquist wrote about a 96-year-old Veteran who attends her G.I. Yoga class.

“He was Air Force Military Police stationed in England,” Blomquist wrote. “Don O’Reilly talks about Naperville before the boom. Don is an active member of the VFW, an Honor Guard, and a member of the Naperville Radio Watch. He does not give out tickets, but he has clocked speeders and relayed their license to the police – among a few of the things that keep him busy.”

Blomquist noted Don’s most interesting stories revolve around some of his military experiences. “His fondest memory was his first airplane ride in a B17 and being in a B24 the week after VE Day.”

As his story continued via Jennifer Slown, PAO, American Legion Post 43, “One evening, his commander asked Don to guard a door for a group meeting and to ‘Let no one enter without proper authorization.’ Don performed that duty, but did not know the subject matter of the group meeting. The next day, Don was informed that he was guarding the members of the group who were reviewing the details for the next day’s attack…Invasion of Normandy, France – Operation Overlord – June 6, 1944.”

Blomquist informed readers that Don’s obvious love of country and service was shared by several of his offspring. “Two sons served in Vietnam and a grandson was in Afghanistan. One of his grandsons is a WWII reenactor who ‘has more uniforms than I do.’ It was this grandson that went with him to Norwich and London, England, for a reunion of his old Air Force unit a few years ago. And yes, he has gone on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.”

Don O’Reilly went to Marquette University in Milwaukee with financial assistance from Western Electric, explained Kate. He’s retired from a career as a mechanical engineer.

“Don still comes to yoga,” said Blomquist recently. “Usually when he’s not there, it’s because he’s serving as an honor guard at a Veteran’s funeral or at a reunion. The man stays busy.”

Photographer Jim Hoch is known for capturing the essence of events for local Veterans organizations.

“One of my objectives over the years of photographing the American Legion and VFW members is to get photos of the 90-plus-year-old Veterans,” noted Hoch. “Too that end, Don O’Reilly has been one of my favorite subjects. He is always readily willing to have his photo taken, and helps enlist other nonagenarian veterans into my quest!”

Hoch said Don always relates a story or two about his military service, and sometimes will bring an old picture or two to show.

“It’s always a learning experience as well as a history lesson for me!” Hoch continued. “Seeing him soldier on, even in freezing weather (an example of which is one of the photos I took of the Honor Guard performing a service at the Naperville City Cemetery in the winter) is a humbling and awe-inspiring event. I certainly hope I am that spry at that age!”

American Legion Department of Illinois Commander Wayne Fischer also chimed in with a tribute in celebration of Don O’Reilly’s 100th birthday on Nov. 16.

“Congratulations, Don,” wrote Fischer. “You are one very special Veteran. You are always at our Post meetings; our Post dinners and special events; and most important is that you carry the ‘Veteran Honored’ Branch Service Flag at their Honors Ceremony as part of our Combined Post Honor Guard. You will always be remembered for that special Service to a Fellow Veteran.”

Shortly before Don O’Reilly’s 99th birthday, we caught his reading Positively Naperville. He told us he’d be 100 years old in “12 months and two weeks.” He continued the countdown, month by month. And now it’s down to days.

We’ll wrap up with Commander Fischer’s words to Don O’Reilly, “Thank you for your Service and have a very special 100th.”

–PN

Last Updated, Nov. 17, 2023

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PN Ombudsman
An ombudsman is Scandinavian in origin dating back to Viking times; and refers to a community representative; usually acting independently on behalf of an organization, body of elected officials, or civic group. Thanks Scandinavia for inventing ombudsman.

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