It has been an emotional few weeks for Kaki Newgard of Arlington Heights. Some 16 years after her son, Will, was killed while serving in Iraq, she never tires of the chance to celebrate his legacy — and his lifelong desire to serve.

Kaki Newgard (photos courtesy of St. Viator High School)

Pfc. Will Newgard was among those featured last month at the VFW Hall in Arlington Heights, when riders with the Gold Star Mission stopped there during their 500-mile trek through Illinois. The ride was held to preserve the legacy and honor of those 300 service men and women from Illinois who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Just five days later, Pfc. Newgard’s mother, the former longtime secretary at Sanborn School in Palatine, appeared in a panel at Saint Viator High School. The group included current and former members of the military who explored the meaning of service and sacrifice in front of a crowd of students and teachers.

The event’s biggest applause came after hearing Newgard describe her son, Will. A Hersey High School graduate, Newgard enlisted in the Army and trained at Ft. Benning, GA before being sent to Germany. He was deployed in July, 2006 to Iraq and within six months of arriving he was killed by an IED while driving a Humvee.

The panel also included Major Gen. David Harris, left, and Greg Padovani, chairman of the Veterans’ Committee in Arlington Heights.

“We were in shock. We knew it was a risk but when it happens you’re totally numb,” Kaki Newgard told the crowd. “We’re so proud of what he did. It was what he wanted to do. We think he was a hero.”

Over the years, Newgard has made several appearances before veterans’ groups, as well as at schools and churches, but the chance to talk to young people, who are near the age of her son when he died, still drives her.

“When I’ve been in a similar situation, where I’ve spoken to folks about Will’s story, and the Army’s continued involvement with me as a Gold Star Mom, our reception is welcomed,” Newgard says. “I do want to shine a light on the incredible support that the Army has provided me these last 15 years, in ways that continue to prove how caring and concerned they are.”

Students gathered in St. Viator’s Academic Commons to hear the panel.

At her Saint Viator appearance, she went on to describe the emotional impact of traveling to Germany one year after her son’s death. She met some of the soldiers her son had served with and she described their warmth for her and the family.

“This is a brotherhood,” she said.  “Being in the military, if you’re thinking of doing this, consider that it raises men and it raises women, and leads to relationships for life.”

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