Bridgeview to rededicate park
“He was my hero” veteran’s brother says
By Steve Metsch
When Muehe Park is rededicated today, Gary Muehe will be thinking a lot about his late older brother Mark.
“He was my hero. He was four years older than me and I looked up to him,” Gary said in the backyard of his Bridgeview home.
“All these years, I think about my brother every single day, probably several times a day.”
The park, first dedicated in October 1980, is at 7151 Hartford St.
It is being rededicated because 2019 will mark 50 years since Mark Muehe’s death, said Ken Pannaralla Jr., a community service representative for Bridgeview.
The rain or shine ceremony starts at 11 a.m. today and will be attended by local elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, state Rep. Mike Zalewski and Bridgeview Mayor Steve Landek.
It’s important for the village to remember Mark, who “made the ultimate sacrifice,” Landek said.
Mark would have turned 70 in August. He was killed on Dec. 5, 1969, during a firefight in the Long Khanh Province of South Vietnam.
“When they (drafted) him, my dad asked, ‘What do you want to do?’” Gary recalled.
Gary and Mark knew what their dad, Arthur, was talking about. It was a thinly-veiled hint Mark would have his family’s support if he were to avoid the draft, as many did, by moving to Canada.
That was not an option, Gary said. “Mark said, ‘I gotta go’.”
This drawing by Jim Hardy of the late Mark Muehe hangs proudly in the Bridgeview home of his brother, Gary Muehe.
Mark, who graduated from Oak Lawn High School in 1966, “was just your average kind of guy,” Gary said. “He liked girls, he liked cars, and he liked music.”
Back then, it was the Beatles or Rolling Stones. Gary said he and Mark “were Stones fans. They were grittier.”
Gary, 66, fondly recalled when their father paid $250 for a 1931 Ford Victoria and drove it home. Mark planned to build his own hot rod, Gary said.
“He pored over those hot rod magazines. He read those like they were the Bible. He would’ve done it,” Greg said.
Then the draft intervened. That ’31 Ford sat disassembled for 30 years in their parents’ garage in the 8900 block of Saratoga Drive. Passers-by sometimes offered to buy it. One day, Arthur sold it.
Gary thinks that had his brother returned home safely, he would have sought a college education. Mark was “very bright,” he said.
Back in those days before texting was the rage, letters were mailed to and from Mark. Gary recalled one letter in which Mark wrote that he was frustrated being the radio operator for his unit. Because of that, he asked for another assignment. That’s how he became a machine gunner.
“It was his undoing. They got ambushed. I guess he was making a mess of the Viet Cong and they put a stop to that. A rocket grenade was close, then one hit and that was the end. They had to take him out because he was raising hell with the North Vietnamese,” Gary said.
Gary was home the morning an Army sergeant and driver knocked on the door. His crying mother woke him with the awful news. His mother, Margaret, insisted they and the Army representatives go to the West Side brewery where Arthur worked to tell him in person.
“Mom and Dad were never the same. They were heartbroken and bitter,” Gary said.
Gary paused. He still gets choked up “all these years later.” But he treasures happy memories of Mark.
“I think I was more of a pest when I was little, but once we got into our teenage years, the four years didn’t make as big a difference,” Gary said.
They’d hang out together now and then, sometimes listening to the latest Rolling Stones album, or going on adventures.
Mark was an Explorer Scout and had built a canoe with a friend. One day, Mark and Gary, then 13 or 14, took the canoe in Arthur’s station wagon to the Des Plaines River in Lyons and paddled “that away for several miles.” That canoe is still in the garage rafters of his childhood home, which is where one of Gary’s sons now lives.
The brothers talked of a motorcycle trip upon Mark’s return from Vietnam, Gary said.
The Muehe family will be well-represented at Saturday’s ceremony.
“I think it’s great. I’m humbled. I’m sure my mom and dad, if they were still around, they’d be pleased also,” Gary Muehe said. “Mark would like it, too.”
Mark and his parents were cremated. Their ashes are in urns in the home Gary shares with wife Diana. Gary hopes to have their ashes interred one day at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood near Joliet.
— Desplaines Valley News