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Geneseo Republic - Geneseo, IL
  • Kohlmeier’s uniform among heroes

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  • The Livingston County War Museum-Dal Estes Education Center in Pontiac recently acquired both the U.S. Air Force service dress and utility uniforms worn by veteran Casey Kohlmeier. The senior airman — who was on track to become a staff sergeant, but was given the opportunity to be honorably discharged early because he never took any sick days — stands honorably amongst his brothers and sisters in arms to be forever remembered as a hero for service to his country.
    “People spend their whole lives doing all kinds of things and spending all kinds of money for the hope of being remembered,” Keri Jo Schmidt, Kohlmeier’s mother said. “Casey will always be remembered. Everywhere I go, people still come up to me talking about him.”
    Schmidt will never be over the loss of her son. However, when Jill Whitmar — wife of Richard Whitmar and daughter of Jack Murphy — asked if the family wanted to display anything in the museum, Schmidt said she felt it would be a disservice to Kohlmeier’s legacy to withhold the uniforms from a public he so willingly served. However, that didn’t make the decision any easier.
    “I had planned to put his dress uniform in a room I have dedicated in my house to memorializing my son,” Schmidt said.  “I was going to keep them for friends and family, but I realized I would not be doing him justice.  He was very proud of his service and I was very proud to see him in uniform. I would rather have people enjoy it. He is a hero to so many — especially his family — and his uniform belongs amongst the heroes of our county.”
    When Whitmar first saw Kohlmeier’s uniform placed on the shoulders of a mannequin, she cried. Schmidt said Whitmar saw herself as a second mother to Kohlmeier and her daughter, Molly Arbogast, spent a lot of time with Kohlmeier.
    “I got to know him very well,” Whitmar said. “I thought it would be a nice tribute to the family and community because he meant so much to so many people.”
    Since the uniforms’ placements, Whitmar said she has received many positive comments from Pontiac Police officers and other community members. Schmidt has visited the museum three times since loaning the uniforms. On Tuesday, at 12:30 p.m., 27 third and fourth grade students attending Saunemin Grade School will visit the museum thanks to a donation from Ebus Estes, the sister of Museum Director Dave Estes and daughter of the late Dal Estes, as well as a graduate of Saunemin High School. She gave a donation for Ryli Schmidt’s class to take a bus from Saunemin Grade School to the museum.
    Page 2 of 2 - “I haven’t been able to really take in everything at the war museum yet the way I want to,” Schmidt said. “But Ryli is really excited to show off her big brother to her classmates. The museum gives you a unexplainable feeling, you see the uniforms and you know you are in the presence of people who gave their lives for us,” Schmidt said. “It’s really intriguing to see everything.”
    Dave Estes asked Schmidt if she would like to do the voice recording, which will go along with the uniform as an audio documentary of Kohlmeier’s service. Schmidt agreed, but said she would need an hour to talk about all of her son’s achievements.
    “I am planning to get a few pictures of him up, but I’ll have to sit down and think about what to say for the audio portion,” Schmidt said. “I’ve talked about Casey for years, so there won’t be any shortage of things to say about him.”
    The underlying hope of all involved is that the community will see a part of Casey that many never knew.
    “This is my way of bringing back those four years that most people didn’t get to see,” Schmidt said. “The people who volunteer there are good about explaining things and recalling their experiences. That makes things more real and I know they will treat my son the way they treat everyone else — with a sense of honor and appreciation.”

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