- Associated Press - Friday, August 28, 2015

PLAINFIELD, Ill. (AP) - The first time Andrew Meari experienced freedom was going to the Mayfair neighborhood park at the corner of Ruth Fitzgerald and Joe Adler drives.

“It was the first place he was allowed to come to by himself on his bicycle,” his mother, Denise Meehan, recalled.

Freedom was the recurring theme as about 200 people watched while Mayfair Park was renamed Pfc. Andrew Meari Memorial Park. Meari was killed Nov. 1, 2010, near Kandahar, Afghanistan, when a Taliban insurgent detonated a motorcycle bomb next to his team. Meari, 21, was a radio operator in the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.

“All of our freedom, including kids being able to go somewhere and play, my son died for that,” Meehan said.

“Andrew was all about making people happy so there’s no greater way to represent his memory,” said Staff Sgt. Cecilio Ponce, who served with Meari. “Lots of kids will enjoy this park for as long as it stands.”

Meehan said she’d been discussing potential memorials with her friends, who in turn approached the Plainfield Park District board earlier this year. The park board unanimously approved honoring Meari with renovations already scheduled. Staffers reported the project came in just less than its $220,000 budget, according to Park Board President Mary Kay Ludemann.

Besides a flagpole and a plaque for Meari, the park has a picnic pavilion, a jungle gym with three slides, plastic climbing obstacles and a hollow ball that smaller visitors can spin around in.

“The playground was just rundown, but they’ve really changed it in the last couple of months. It looks really nice,” said Don Stearns, who lives nearby. Stearns and his daughters, Samantha, 15, and Leah, 4, were among those who held American flags around the park during the dedication.

“I came (because I’m) a proud American. You have to support the men and women who fight for us,” Stearns said.

About 90 three-by-five flags distributed by Project Patriotism lined the sidewalks as a procession of motorcycles and fire trucks arrived. VFW members played taps and raised the flag before the Joliet Police Pipe and Drums performed.

Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, U.S. Rep. Bill Foster and Joliet Council members Larry Hug and Jim McFarland addressed the crowd near the flagpole. Thirty feet away, dozens of children ignored them to run and jump on the new playground equipment.

Like the old Mayfair Park, Andrew Meari Park also has four swings - two belt seats and two bucket seats.

“Those were his favorite. That’s flying,” Meehan said.

She then looked back at the rear of the park and her eyes moistened as she remembered another activity her son enjoyed.

“I taught him how to climb on the pine trees back there … then watched him climb by himself. I know, I know, bad mom,” she laughed. “This isn’t a day for crying. It’s a celebration. I’m so thrilled and honored.”

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Source: The (Joliet) Herald-News, http://bit.ly/1LtDBFl

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Information from: The Herald-News, http://www.suburbanchicagonews.com/heraldnews

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