(Re)building bridges: Veteran reservist reflects on service
John Nolin, left, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force Reserves, with his father, Robert Nolin, a U.S. Navy veteran who served during the Korean War. | Contributed photo
Updated: December 9, 2012 6:05AM
PARK RIDGE — John Nolin is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force Reserve and a member of a proud military family.
His late father, Robert Nolin, served in the Navy from 1951 to 1955, and his grandfather was a World War I veteran. Nolin is a resident of Chicago’s Oriole Park community and an active member of the Park Ridge Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3579, organizing the city’s annual Memorial Day parade for the last three years.
Q. What were your military responsibilities in the Air Force Reserve?
A. I was a civil engineer. I went from Iceland all the way down to Panama, and I was in from 1981 to 1996. Our basic mission was to rebuild bases during a time of a war — in the event of anything getting boomed — and maintain the base.
Q. What kind of work did you do?
A. I was a heavy equipment operator and our title was “roads and grounds.” We maintained everything, from digging foundations for buildings to assisting carpenters, plumbers and so forth — basically anything you can picture civil engineers doing in civilian life. We went down to Panama in ’92, right after (Manuel) Noriega was removed from office. Our mission was to rebuild schools. It was a real culture shock because it’s a third-world country. ... Our main objective was to get schools built so they could be educated, but there was no running water, no flush toilets. Every building had armed guards. If you put anything down, someone would steal it.
Q. What was it like to see that?
A. It was an eye-opener. It gave you more appreciation for what we take for granted, like electricity. We scream and yell when we have a storm and don’t have electricity for two or three days. We forget the simple things in life and how simple life can be. We get too spoiled.
Q. How long have you been involved with the Park Ridge Memorial Day parade?
A. I’ve been helping out with the Memorial Day Parade for some 30 years now. ... My dad was a lifetime member in the VFW. … One of the guys asked me if I wanted to put up (parade) signs. I was a young kid back then. Many of the guys had passed away, and all of a sudden, they asked if I wanted to be in charge of the whole parade. I’m now in my third year as the head person. … They definitely need more volunteers, so if you know any veterans who are eligible through the American Legion and VFW, tell them to sign up.
Q. What are your primary parade responsibilities?
A. Our main thing is that no one gets hurt. You try to organize and get everyone in order and you have to go through military protocols. Police and fire take off first, and you make sure no one is in the way, then one of the high school bands — Maine South and Maine East alternate years, then the veterans.