The morning began with a roar as dozens of motorcycles paraded through downtown Marseilles to cheers and snapping flaps. The event culminated in near-silence as all paused at roster of those killed in action.
Sean Thompson of Minooka, a veteran of the U.S. Navy who served in Operation Desert Shield, was among those who came to the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles to pay his respects to the fallen. When asked why people should honor those killed in combat, he didn’t mince words.
“Every morning when you get up, there’s a reason why: Someone gave up his life for that,” Thompson said, reminding all that freedom comes at a price. “That’s reason enough to come out.”
Hundreds of others heeded his call and either rode into Marseilles in the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run and/or to join the observances at the Memorial Wall. Saturday marked the 17th anniversary of the memorial’s dedication.
The event draws patriots and supporters from around the nation, with at least one representative from Louisiana. Dwight Croak of Shreveport made annual treks to Marseilles in remembrance of several fallen friends, led by William Manuel a 34-year-old from Kinder, Louisiana, who served in the Army in Iraq but did not return home.
A patch inscribed with Manuel’s service years rests on Croak’s vest, but he emphasized he made the long drive from Shreveport to support a much broader circle of friends and family members who also served in the military and returned home alive.
“My dad, my grandfathers, they were all in the military,” Croak said.
David Raikes is retired now from Laborers Local 393 in Marseilles but he was among the construction workers who jumped at the chance to honor the fallen. Raikes said the $1 million project was completed with volunteer labor and in-kind donations.
“We worked seven days a week for three months to get this finished on time on June 19, 2004,” Raikes said. “When I brought it to my (union) members they were 100% in.
“It was truly an honor to be part of it.”
Raikes further noted construction was completed during an exceptionally hot spring. He and other supervisors begged overheated workers to go home but all persevered, mindful that the memorial was to honor even greater sacrifices.
Saturday’s observances were completed under less punishing weather. The opening ceremony was held under sunny skies, 79 degrees and a cooling breeze, which was a welcome relief for state Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris), a regular participant who’s watched spectators pass out from the heat in previous years.
But as with the workers who toiled in 2004, Rezin wouldn’t hear of retreating from the elements.
“It’s just a humbling experience to be asked to speak to the Gold Star families.”
(Editor’s note: A fatal crash involving eight motorcycles near the junction of Interstates 80 and 55 was believed to be unrelated to Saturday’s event in Marseilles. The crash time was minutes before Freedom Run’s scheduled departure from the Grundy County Fairgrounds and the crash was 18 miles away. A message left with a spokeswoman for the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run seeking confirmation was not returned.)