Just three days before one of his favorite holidays and beneath an overcast sky, a hearse carrying local World War II veteran Robert "Bob" Oehmen made its way down Harlem Avenue in the rain.
Along the street, a pick-up truck had pulled over. Beside it, a man stood watching the procession pass. Tears streamed down his face as he held his hand over his heart.
Oehmen's 89 years brought him all over the world. He stormed the beach at Normandy while serving in the U.S. Army and Tuesday, settled into a familiar sanctuary where he'd spent countless hours volunteering—the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.
Often when life ends at after nearly 90 years, many friends have already passed and it's primarily family members who are there to pay their final respects. That was not so for the resident and hero, who . Standing at both entrances of , the Illinois Patriot Guard held American flags and opened the doors for hundreds of mourners who were saying goodbye to one of Tinley's finest.
Several members of veteran groups, including and the —where Oehmen volunteered for more than four decades—saluted the casket as Amazing Grace gently played in the background. Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki and state Sen. M. Maggie Crotty (D-Oak Forest) were also in the crowd. Both fondly remembered years of receiving .
Friends like Rich Anderson recalled his wonderful sense of humor and infinite care for others. Oehmen "never said a bad word about anyone and would do anything for a veteran," he said, citing a specific memory.
"... (One) time we were putting flags on graves at a cemetery, a woman came up and told us her husband (a veteran) never got a proper military funeral," Anderson said. "Right then, Bob told us to go to the grave and we gave that woman's husband a military ceremony. As we looked up, the tears were falling from her face. Because of Bob, she could have closure."
A lengthy escort lined up Tuesday morning to accompany Oehmen to his final resting place. Pastor Walter Ledogar, of Christ Lutheran Church in Orland Park, showed a few handmade cards he'd received from him. He spoke of his love for people and zest for life. The veteran adored his wife, Charline, and their 11 children, 25 grandchildren, 40 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.
"He was a hell of a guy," . "He was my very best friend. I'm sure going to miss him."
Below is a personal note from Mary Compton, who knew Oehmen well. Please share your own memories in the comments section of this story.
"We were all blessed to have known Robert Oehmen. The 'pay it forward' lesson comes to mind. We should follow his example and never speak ill of anyone else. We should send cards to our loved ones. Bob would always end his conversations with his close friends and family members with, 'Love ya!' When you would say, 'Love you too,' he would say, 'No there's only one of me.'
Until we meet again!