Community gives surprise recognition to 95-year-old veteran at Aledo Veterans Day ceremony

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ALEDO, Illinois -- A Veterans Day ceremony turned out to be a big surprise for a 95-year-old veteran, and it was a secret kept by the whole community.

Aledo residents gathered together to honor veterans and to dedicate a brand new statue, which depicted a female soldier.  Little did Jo Lawson know, this was also a time to recognize her service.

Lawson is known around town as being the most senior female veteran in all of Mercer County.  Near the end of the Veterans Day ceremony a high school student, Brynn Bergen, took the podium.  Bergen had told Lawson that the interview was for a class assignment, but it was actually in preparation to highlight Lawson at this ceremony.

"Mrs. Lawson I would like to start by apologizing that I had to fib to you, but it was for a good reason," she said.  Bergen went on to talk about Lawson's life of service - both in military and beyond.

Lawson enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1944, after she graduated college.  In the service she worked as a radio operator, translating Morse Code. It's a skill she said came naturally to her and one she retained for decades.

After her service was complete in the Coast Guard, she served in the Navy Reserves.  Later on she became a middle school social studies teacher.

And it was those students that she had in class many years ago who helped put the surprise on in her honor.

"It would never occur to her that people would be here to honor her," said Colonel Michelle Ryan. "She's so humble and has such a wonderful spirit and ability to lift us all up."

"It was neat to watch her reaction when she finally realized what was taking place," said Lieutenant Nick Seefeld. "And at the end of it was a special honor for her, so it was a nice ceremony."

The memorial statue was created by "Mercer County Women for Women" and the "Aledo Police Benevolent Association."