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Marseilles Freedom Run: ‘It was truly an honor to be part of it’

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.”

The Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run begins Saturday morning in Marseilles. (Tom Collins)

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.

A Gold Star mom, Linda Wright-Dennis, of Jeffersonville, ind., runs her fingers over the engraving of her son's name, Army Spc. Christopher S. Wright, at the Middle East Conflicts Wall in Marseilles Saturday. He was killed in action on Aug. 19, 2010, and this was her first time seeing his name on the wall.

A Gold Star mom, Linda Wright-Dennis, of Jeffersonville, ind., runs her fingers over the engraving of her son’s name, Army Spc. Christopher S. Wright, at the Middle East Conflicts Wall in Marseilles Saturday. He was killed in action on Aug. 19, 2010, and this was her first time seeing his name on the wall. (Katy Arnold /)

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.

Organizers begin the memorial program for those killed in action at the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial following the Freedom Run in Marseilles. (Tom Collins)

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.”

A member of the Illinois Patriot Guard smokes a cigar as he rolls into town during Freedom Run Saturday in Marseilles.

A member of the Illinois Patriot Guard smokes a cigar as he rolls into town during Freedom Run Saturday in Marseilles. (Katy Arnold /)

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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