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Most parents among us know the dread of possible harm befalling our children, especially those whose precious heirs march off to fight our nation's wars.

Even more tragic are the parents faced with the helpless, heart-shattering tragedy of burying their children.

But how many fathers and mothers among us have directly put our own lives in harm's way to protect sons or daughters?

We've all heard phrases in which parents profess a willingness to "walk through fire" for their offspring.

On this Father's Day, I remember a retired Lowell farmer who lived those words.

Adam Van Alstine had the pedigree carried by a number of region folks. A product of European immigration, Van Alstine actually began his farming career in Momence, Ill., a rural community in Kankakee County, before moving to Lowell.

Through the course of his farming life, Van Alstine fathered two boys, Charles and George. As his boys grew, the farmer instilled in his precious sons the values of hard work and preservation of the nation in which they had built their lives.

When our nation was less than two years into a bloody war, the Van Alstine boys slipped away to an enlistment office, volunteering to serve in the Army.

Adam Van Alstine, at that time a widower, no doubt felt both pride and consternation.

The two people most precious to him were fulfilling the values he taught them. But this was August 1862 — in the heart of the American Civil War — and the Van Altstine boys were marching off to a conflict that already had claimed hundreds of thousands of American lives.

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Van Alstine couldn't keep them from this higher purpose. But more than a year into their military service, he couldn't sit by suffering in silence either.

In the fall of 1863, Van Alstine tracked the boys down at a Chicago encampment where they had been detached, guarding Confederate prisoners. Father Van Alstine joined his boys' ranks in Company K of the 113th Illinois Infantry.

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Family accounts hold that he couldn't bear for his sons to be in a deadly conflict outside his watchful eye.

Van Alstine served with his sons in the second half of a four-year war that still ranks as the most costly to human life in U.S. history.

The Van Alstine men saw action in some significant engagements, including repulsing attacks in Mississippi led by infamous Confederate Cavalry Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who post-war founded the white supremacy Ku Klux Klan.

All three men survived the conflict, but the war took its toll on the patriarch.

Though the nature of his injuries aren't made clear in military records, Adam Van Alstine took a disability discharge from the Illinois volunteers in March 1865, about a month before the war's effective end.

He settled in Lowell after the war and died in the south Lake County town in 1897. I was honored in 2012 to help mark the Lowell Memorial Cemetery grave of this quintessential father with a new granite headstone.

Adam Van Alstine took the parent's sacred duty of protecting children to new heights. More than 150 years later, there remains no better spirit to honor on this sacred day for fathers.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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Editor

Marc Chase is a veteran investigative reporter, columnist and editor of more than two decades. He currently leads The Times news staff as local news editor. He can be reached at 219-933-3327.