COAL CITY – The recent loss of Marine Lance Cpl. Steven Hancock of Goose Lake made for a somber Memorial Day ceremony Monday, marking the first time in 46 years a soldier from the community has died in service.
“For many years, I have been able to say that fortunately, we have not lost any community members since Vietnam,” Jack Micetich, of VFW St. Juvin Post 1336 told a packed Coal City Intermediate School gymnasium. “But as we’ve heard many times today, we did lose Lance Cpl. Steven Hancock.”
The 2011 graduate of Coal City High School died last week after falling from an aircraft during a training flight in North Carolina. Hancock would have celebrated his 21st birthday this week.
Friends of the Hancock family and those who knew Steven were encouraged to share their fondest memories of the young hero at Coal City’s Memorial Day ceremony held at the intermediate school, where the Veteran’s Monument wall is located.
“Steven was a person who could always find the good in everything and always make you smile,” Hancock’s Eagle Scout mentor, Arnold Brewer, told those in attendance.
“I remember one of the biggest things Steven had problems with was he could never keep his pants pulled up or his shirt tucked in,” Brewer added. “I’m confident the Marines helped him to correct that.”
Jill Larson, longtime friend of the Hancock family, said she most remembers Steven’s commitment to helping others. She shared a story about when he organized the funds and labor to build a new floor for the Christian Youth Center of Morris.
“What more can I say,” Larson said of Hancock.
Each of the event’s three distinguished speakers also touched on Hancock’s death, reminding the community to never forget the high price of freedom.
“When called upon, with unmatched bravery and courage, they lay down their lives,” Diamond Mayor Terry Kernc said during her speech. “You and I also have a duty, and that duty is to thank our men and women in the military... Today we both honor and remember Lance Cpl. Steven Hancock.”
Speaker Kent Bugg, Coal City School District Unit 1 superintendent, called for a moment of silence for Hancock.
“Our hearts go out to the family of Steven Hancock. I will always be proud to say that Steven was a graduate of Coal City High School,” Bugg said emotionally. “He will be truly missed.”
While Hancock’s death weighed heavy on the hearts and minds of those in attendance, Monday’s event also took time to recognize other veterans and soon-to-be soldiers from Coal City.
Local veteran Raymond Onsen of the St. Juvin VFW Post 1336 was also honored for his commitment to landscaping the Veteran’s Monument wall in Coal City every year, a task he has volunteered to do for the past 13 years.
The post surprised Onsen who was not expecting the recognition.
“So far we have not found a variety of [flower] that plants itself. They do not weed themselves and they do not water themselves,” Post 1336 Cmdr. Charles Brown said. “All good things come to an end, and a couple weeks ago Raymond told me this will be his last year.”
Six Coal City High School graduates going into the military also were recognized with certificates and received a standing ovation from the large crowd.
Bugg said he hopes all students from Coal City School District are taught to appreciate the sacrifices made by U.S. soldiers.
“I want them to understand that they would not have all the freedoms they enjoy today were it not for the names on that memorial,” Bugg said. “I want them to understand that the names on that memorial, those should be their true heroes.”