The all-day threat of rain and thunderstorms could not keep away about 2,500 Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run bikers from places near and around the country on Saturday. Despite the weather, people waving American flags lined the streets, from North Rutland to near the end of Main Street.
The reason for the day
The ceremony at the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial drew about 800 people to its location along the Illinois River.
Ottawa's American Legion Post 33 presented colors; 21 names were read by two Gold Star mothers and a Gold Star father; a lone bagpiper slowly walked along the walls that honored the (estimated) 7,969 names forever etched into the black granite; a 21-gun salute followed by the mournful sound of taps played by Mike Osterloh, son of Freedom Run's Vice President Mike Osterloh.
Among several guest speakers, Marseilles Mayor Jim Hollenbeck and Ron Dickerson of MTCO/Illinois Valley Cellular, home to the Wall, spoke about the city's love of country, the importance of never forgetting the heroes and the history of how the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial came to be such an important military tribute in Marseilles.
Marseilles resident Barb Harrison talked about the importance of the Wall.
“I've attended the ceremony that honors our heroes since it began in 2004,” Harrison said. “My husband was in the Air Force and my father served in the Navy during World War II. For me, this event honors our both our fallen and living heroes. But it's more than that. It's honoring how we got here. You know, freedom is not free. We have to honor and respect America and we have to celebrate all of our heroes who have made our country so great.”
The gathering before the bikes rode in
Sitting under a tree on Bluff and Main streets, Streator residents Julieanna Ferguson, Jakub Meredith and Katryna Hagaman were waiting for the first motorcycle roar and flashing lights.
“We want to be here,” Hagaman said. “It's our chance to honor and remember our heroes.”
Marseilles resident Salestine Tucker has been attending the event since the very beginning.
“I do this because I want to support our troops anyway I can,” she said. “Everyone here is for our troops and that's very important. It doesn't matter who you are. Bikers, residents, visitors ... we are all here for the same reason. Honoring our heroes.”
Freedom Run was a combination of the loss everyone feels every year when new names are read and the thrill of watching about 2,500 motorcyclists ride into Marseilles.
The sadness this day has to happen every year, the celebration of patriotism and the friendships built between mourning families and bikers from all over the nation was strong in 2004; it's just as strong more than a decade later.
Gino and Deb Cesario from Gardner said the day was all about the vets.
“This is my second year at Freedom Run,” Gino said. “It's all about the vets, fallen and alive. It's about getting out of bed on a rainy day to honor all of our heroes we're here to honor and remember today.”
“And it's all about showing respect for America,” added Deb.
Heather and Rigo Medina moved from Chicago to Marseilles two years ago. They have no regrets.
“I work from home so it was ideal for us to move to a small community,” Heather said. “You very seldom see a huge event like this, celebrating our military and fallen heroes, in Chicago. We've found Marseilles to be a welcoming community for everyone. Freedom Run bikers supporting our heroes by coming to a small town like this just shows what life in a small town is all about. We're very happy here.”
Rain couldn't keep away about 15 vendors lining Main Street.
“This day is important because it's an opportunity to honor and celebrate our veterans that come home and mourn the loss of our fallen veterans," said Michelle Gleason, of Gleason's Hardware and Illinois River Area Chamber of Commerce board member said. "We're here every year to do just that.
"This year, our board thought it would be a good idea to sell ice cream since it's always so hot. We'll see what happens today,” she said with a laugh. “But whatever the weather, our vets are the reason for this day.”
Marseilles resident Tim Glass thought is was a beautiful event.
“The bikes roaring into town with American flags on almost every one ... you know exactly what this event stands for. It's about honoring our fallen heroes, respecting and celebrating those that come home where they belong. It's about respect for America and for each other.” he paused. “It's definitely not a day about money.”
There was no truer proof of that than the Christian Motorcyclists Association. This year's group was the Aurora chapter.
“Our main goal is to minister to other bikers,” the chapter's president said. “During Freedom Run we volunteer by helping to direct traffic and sell dog tags that help maintain the Wall. We have a chapter in every country in the world except three. Our motto is sharing the love of Jesus Christ with Motorcyclists, one heart at a time.”
Another motorcycle club's booth, Chicago's Iron Vengeance, has been part of Freedom Run since it's inception in 2004.
“We've had some really good times here,” one member said. “It's a day for honoring our fallen heroes and respecting America. We've made some great friends here, everyone here for the same reasons. It's an incredible day.”
“It's a beautiful event,” another member said. “It's really awesome and it should never stop until there are no more names to add to this Wall.”