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Pekin Community High School students create project to honor Tazewell County veterans

Pekin Community High School students share their project honoring Tazewell County veterans.
Camryn Cutinello
Pekin Community High School students share their project honoring Tazewell County veterans.

A student project honoring Tazewell County veterans will be on display at the Pekin Public Library this summer.

The project was inspired by three Medal of Honor recipients who lived in Pekin. John G. K. Ayers, Thomas C. Murphy and William Reed all served during the Civil War. They earned the award for actions taken during the same battle: the Siege of Vicksburg.

Tazewell County Clerk John Ackerman asked Pekin Community High School social studies teacher Colleen Kahl if her students would do a project honoring the three men. The students expanded the idea further to honor all Tazewell County veterans.

They conducted interviews with veterans, including East Peoria Mayor John Kahl.

“It was an amazing day, the students were absolutely phenomenal,” he said. “Sitting down for their interviews, you can tell that they truly had a passion for this project. And I found it to be very humbling myself.”

The students created a website to share the stories of the veterans they spoke to. The website includes a form for veterans to fill out to be added to the site.

“The key to me for this project is it's not just remembering our past and cataloging our past,” Ackerman said. “But rather, there is a living link to this, there's a link where veterans going into the future can click and add their photo and their biography to this site. So this is a living, breathing item that will continue to grow.”

The students used photos of the veterans' hands to create an American flag.

Harley Tovrea is one of the students who worked on the project. He says the hands represent the sacrifices made and the mark veterans made on the country.

“With this project, we're continually looking at the service that members of Tazewell County gave — their sacrifices, their time, time with their families, and even those who sacrifice their life,” he said. “For us, we just want to honor them, and thank them for their service.”

Pekin Mayor Mary Burress said the project hit close to home, as her father and two brothers served in the military. One of her brothers currently serves in the Army Reserves and will be deployed in Kuwait for nine months.

“You show respect for these veterans,” she said. “Now, we have many here in Tazewell County that have come back. And we have a few that have not, and those few have paid the ultimate sacrifice, and that is their life, for our freedom. The veterans that have come back, many of them are pillars in our community.”

The flag also has photos of the three Medal of Honor recipients and two Pekin men who died in the service. Jordan Bastean, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, and Dean Shaffer, who served in the U.S. Army.

The flag will be on display at the Pekin Public Library this summer, and will move to other public buildings after it’s taken down.

Camryn Cutinello is a reporter and digital content director at WCBU. You can reach Camryn at cncutin@illinoisstate.edu.