Even in a close-knit community like Forest Park, there is an awful lot we don’t know about our neighbors — we often don’t know all the struggles they’ve faced, the sacrifices they’ve made, or the obstacles they’ve overcome. Despite the yearly holiday dedicated to honoring them, this is particularly true of our neighbors who are veterans of the Armed Forces. Some of them served bravely during wartime — seeing and experiencing the horrors of battle firsthand. Others have led lives of quiet dedication to country here at home or abroad. We rarely get to hear their stories. 

The Historical Society of Forest Park has dedicated itself to making those stories more widely known and shared. To that end, the society has begun an oral history project, which seeks to record the stories of our Forest Park veterans for posterity. This effort is being spearheaded by Board Member Nancy Cavaretta, who is actively seeking veterans willing to be interviewed on tape, and provide us an enduring record of their service to country.

The society initiated this effort on Sunday, Nov. 12 with a Veterans Day dinner, held at Shanahan’s restaurant, 7353 Madison St. Forest Park vets ate free, courtesy of Shanahan’s, and were invited to share their stories. Twenty-three people were present — including nine veterans.

Each veteran was invited to share their story — and each veteran gave an account of their service. Joe Byrnes spoke movingly of his service in Vietnam, and of a friend who he thought had died in combat but who contacted him years later to renew the bonds they had forged years earlier. Other veterans gave fascinating testimony of their time in Afghanistan, Germany, and here at home. Common themes included “military families,” where a commitment to military service is passed on from parent to child; the deep friendships that develop in battle; and the lasting benefits of military training and access to education. Two of the veterans were medical doctors.

Veterans attending the event included: Joseph Byrne, Raphael Davis, Patricia Salazar-Davis, Joseph Johnston, Cliff Leber, Debra Funderwhite, Chaplain Chandeep Singh Kabra, and Lt. Col. Dr. Neil Meccia, and Dr. Paul Roach.

The Historical Society plans to make the Veterans Day Dinner a yearly event, and extends its gratitude to all Forest Park veterans — both those who attended this year and those who, it is hoped, will attend future events. It is also grateful to Shanahan’s for providing a space, and their picking up the tab for our veterans.

If you are a veteran and would like to share your story, please contact the Historical Society at forestparkhistory1975@gmail.com. If you would like to support these efforts, you may become a member and/or leave a donation at https://www.forestparkhistory.org.

Brian Kuhr

Board member

Historical Society of Forest Park