Sailors to join local Thanksgiving feasts
Lake Zurich - New Life Lutheran Church preschoolers prepare "goody bags" to be given to sailors attending the church's annualmThanksgiving meal. Sailors and recruits onboard Naval Station Great Lakes are celebrating Thanksgiving with local families, churches and civic groups, a Great Lakes tradition since World War I. New Life Lutheran Church in Lake Zurich will host a dozen sailors for its annual holiday potluck dinner. From left AJ Martinez, Cade Croonborg, Mia Niemi and Jack Guzak work. | Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 23, 2012 6:13AM
Although separated from loved ones, sailors can spend Thanksgiving with new friends grateful for their service.
Residents, civic organizations, veterans groups and churches are saving seats for men and women from Naval Station Great Lakes. The Adopt-A-Sailor program, a tradition since World War I, provides service members with the opportunity to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal away from their post.
“When you’re on the base week after week, it’s nice to leave and go to someone’s home,” said Sue Krawczyk, a deputy public affairs officer at Training Support Center Great Lakes. “Many have said they miss their own families, but they have a new family here.”
Applications to host sailors are accepted two months in advance from residents within 50 miles of the naval base.
Because the training support center often has more applicants than participating sailors, a lottery is held to determine hosts.
Of the 3,500 sailors on base, more than 200 signed up for the program this year. Service members randomly paired with a holiday host often spend their time eating, relaxing, watching football and calling home, Krawczyk said.
“They’re treated like royalty,” Krawczyk said. “(Residents) are thanking these sailors for their service and making sure no one is left behind or has nowhere to go.”
One participant is excited for sailor guests to meet a relative who is a 90-year-old veteran, Krawczyk said.
Former U.S. Air Force Officer Corey Miller of Hawthorn Woods knows the feeling of being away from family. Miller spent nearly a decade celebrating Thanksgiving with people outside his immediate family. One year, he enjoyed a traditional turkey meal with American and German troops in a mess hall on a NATO base in Germany.
“It’s not important who I shared it with but that I got to experience it,” he said.
Two Thanksgivings ago, Miller’s family hosted two Great Lakes sailors. One sailor called his mother, who asked to speak with Miller and his wife.
“She was practically crying,” he recalled. “She was so happy he wasn’t spending the day alone twiddling his thumbs in the barracks.”
Soon-to-be-sailors finishing basic training are also welcome. New Life Lutheran Church in Lake Zurich has annually hosted a dozen naval recruits at its community-wide Thanksgiving event for the past seven years. The holiday involves much more than a meal, the Rev. Andrew Bauer said.
After getting picked up from the naval base in the morning, recruits are treated to doughnuts and coffee before hitting a driving range at the Libertyville Sports Complex. At noon, approximately 50 people congregate at the church for a potluck meal followed by an afternoon of fun and entertainment. The recruits’ holiday is capped with bowling and pizza.
“It’s one day of rest and reprieve,” Bauer said. “We want to make it nice and special.”
The church mails a DVD recap to the service members’ families. Parents are grateful to know their sons and daughters are OK and having fun, Bauer said.