By Sterling McGinn

Two community service awards were presented to Peter Rahilly and to the family of the late Martin Harju at the 10th Annual Luce County Veterans Banquet held on Saturday, November 4 at the American Legion in Newberry.

The event was sponsored by the Luce County Veteran Affairs Board and the Luce County Veteran Service Office.

Prior to the keynote speaker and awards presentation, Veterans and their families were served dinner prepared by Styes Guys UP BBQ from Newberry. Members of Newberry High School’s athletic teams and the Honor Society helped serve and clear tables.

According to Luce County Veteran Service officer, Rick Minard, approximately 163 Veterans and family were in attendance.

One of the highlights of the evening was a speech given by keynote speaker Captain Vince Baker of the U. S. Navy, a former Gould City resident and longtime member of McMillan Lodge 400 Free and Accepted Masons.

Now going on 41 years of service with the U. S. Navy, Captain Baker has served as the Commanding Officer of Naval Support Activity, Annapolis from 2016 to 2018 and most recently served as the 49th Commanding Officer of Naval Station Norfolk.

Baker said he was a musician and wanted to be a rock star, but had a calling to serve in the U. S. Military. He enlisted in the U. S. Navy as a Fire Control Technician assigned to USS Moinester FF 1097, in Norfolk, VA. In 1991, he was promoted to Chief Petty Officer and assigned to the pre-commissioning crew of USS Vella. He served in numerous positions across the country.

“I am honored and humbled to speak to this group of heroes,” Captain Baker said. “You answered the call to protect and defend freedom and your commitment to our nation is the embodiment of selflessness and sacrifices.”

Addressing the Veterans, Captain Baker said he wanted to provide them another opportunity to serve.

“Like many of you here today, I have spent my entire adult life trying to make the world a safer place for our children and our children’s children—when you watch the news on TV, it is obvious my work is not done,” he said. “I am calling on you to help me raise the next generation who will stand watch and defend freedom.”

Following Captain Baker’s speech, Sterling McGinn presented two community service awards.

The posthumous award was given in honor of the late Martin Harju, who was a Newberry native and U.S. Coast Guard veteran.

Following Harju’s military service during World War II, he returned to his hometown where he was active in the American Legion Post 74, Masons, Shriners, and Eagles Club. He was also the American Legion Bugler for 53 years, using the same hand-hammered cornet he got brand new to play Taps in 1936. He was also the arts and crafts instructor at the Newberry State Hospital until his retirement.

Martin Harju and his wife Minnie (Tucker) had four children.

Accepting the award were two of his children, Kathy Dzelak and Marty Harju.

The 2023 Luce County Community Service award was presented to U. S. Army veteran and first responder Peter Rahilly.

Rahilly is the longest serving Newberry firefighter and was a longtime member of the Luce County EMS.

He was recognized for his selfless service to the community and for being a vital part of Luce County for decades.