Numerous men and women from Sycamore have served our country, and have been part of many adventures as part of that experience. William Hemenway’s story explores a local man’s trials during World War I. The year 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the United States entering this war. The second person included in the exhibit is Michael Emmer. He served in the United States military for over 20 years. During his last tour of duty, he was assigned to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Emmer was there during October 2005 when Iraq became an Islamic democracy.

World War I

William Forrest Hemenway

Above: W.F. Hemenway in WWI Uniform.
Below: WWI Soldiers lined up, W.F. Hemenway’s Musical Instruments Store, and another image of Hemenway in WWI Uniform.

The son of a doctor and a teacher, William Forrest Hemenway was born in West Chicago in 1884 but was raised in Sycamore. By 1909 he joined the National Guard in DeKalb and served along the Mexican border. He then fought in France during World War I, where his company was gassed at the battle of Meuse-Argonne (1918). Hemenway rose through the ranks, ultimately achieving the position of Brigadier General. After the end of World War I, he returned to Sycamore to become the Postmaster General from 1920 to 1935.

After his leg amputation in 1939, Hemenway retired from military service. Unable to serve in World War II, Hemenway contributed to the war effort by protecting Sycamore. He acted as the commander of Citizens Defense Corp and controlled emergency services in Sycamore. Additionally, the W.F. Hemenway Music and Musical Instruments store contributed to the community of Sycamore (including providing the piano for the local Chautauqua for many years) and its culture. Hemenway died in April of 1957 in Fullerton, California, after an extended illness.


Michael Emmer

Michael Emmer

Emmer Tank

Military Vehicle, part of Emmer’s convoy.

Iraqi Election Day

Image taken during patrols.

Iraqi Election Day

Young Iraqi girl

Michael Emmer enlisted in the Army while at Sycamore High School (class of 1983) and started his military career one month after graduation. He served for 20 years and retired as a Sergeant First Class and returned to Sycamore in 2006. When asked why he wanted to join the military, his answer was simply “Adventure.” 

His first assignment was with the 1st Armored Division in the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) in 1983 during the Cold War. He later served in the Republic of Korea (South Korea). He then participated in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf, Operation Restore Hope in Somalia, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He has served in the 1st Armored Division, 3rd Infantry Division, 24th Infantry Division, 2nd Infantry Division, 4th Infantry Division, and he completed his career with the 3rd Infantry Division again. 

Operation Iraqi Freedom 

During his last tour of duty, Emmer was stationed in Makadia in Diyala province (on the border with Iran) and in Bakuba. His responsibilities included working with coalition forces (United Kingdom, Spain, Austria, and Poland) who conducted military operations and assisting the host nation. His orders were to aid Iraq in the creation of its own constitution and to assist the army and police in the establishment of a freely elected government. They were also charged to vigorously pursue and neutralize anti-Iraqi forces.

Working with Civil Affairs, Emmer left the base more often than other soldiers, but it was usually with only three vehicles and twelve people compared to the convoys with numerous tanks and other military vehicles. During these visits, he worked to get the resources needed by the Iraqi people to the right places. This included delivering donations from the United States to Iraqi schools and families. It was these experiences and witnessing the appreciation of the local children that made Emmer feel like he was really making a difference and fighting for a just cause.

Left: Picture of US troops with Iraqi citizens on election day.