Crowds greet second VetsRoll group on arrival from Washington, D.C.
Local veterans return to Beloit after a bus trip to Washington D.C.
BELOIT Tears filled the eyes of veterans receiving a welcome home from Washington, D.C., on Thursday night.
A giant American flag waved over the parking lot entrance to the Eclipse Center. Two fire truck ladders arched in the sky to wave the flag.
Fireworks crackled and popped in the sky.
Fire trucks honked while crowds clapped and cheered as 11 coach buses of veterans and volunteers unloaded outside the center at about 9 p.m.
Veterans, Boy Scouts and other proud Americans waved flags as “God Bless America” filled the cool spring breeze.
“Fantastic, in capital letters,” was how C.L. Thompson of Rockford, Ill., described the trip. The World War II Navy veteran was in awe of how many people came to greet them.
“And fireworks! I’ve never had any fireworks.”
It was the end of VetsRoll 2, a four-day trip to Washington, D.C., for veterans who had never seen the war memorials in their honor there.
The caravan of coaches received a police escort on its way home, and supporters waving American flags greeted the veterans along a parade route starting in South Beloit, Ill.
There was no fanfare when Richard Crawford returned home from the Korean War.
The Army veteran landed in California to a few visitors and “nothing like this.”
“This makes up for everything,” he said.
Coming home Thursday night was the best part, he said.
“I couldn’t hold back the tears.”
Brothers Mark and John Finnegan, owners of Finnegans’ RV Center in South Beloit, Ill., run the non-profit VetsRoll organization. The all-volunteer, grassroots organization is dedicated to honoring World War II and Korean War veterans and their stateside support, the Rosie the Riveter types who worked in factories for the war effort.
This is the second trip the Finnegans have organized.
The group visited the Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania on their way to Washington. A jam-packed Wednesday included visits to Arlington National Cemetery, the Lincoln Memorial, and of course, the war memorials.
Jean Nelson of Rockford, Ill., couldn’t believe how much respect people showed the group throughout the trip.
“The people were so nice,” said Nelson, who served in the Navy WAVES, or Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, during World War II.
“I’m speechless,” she said, raising her hand to her heart.
Watching the coaches unload was “the only place to be” Thursday night for John and Marsha Melgard of Janesville. John served in the Army during the Vietnam War, and Marsha’s mother served in the Royal Air Force in England.
“My heart pounds, I’m so happy to be a part of it,” said Marsha, who was decked out in red, white and blue, include earrings in each color. “It’s what I hoped it would be.”
The trip was flawless, despite rain showers that stuck around for most of the trip, said Jerry Avakian of Beloit, who served from 1943 to 1946 in an Army Airborne division.
“For the most part it was just a dream come true,” he said.
He never thought he’d make it out east to see the memorials.
“It was one big party,” he said with a smile.
Clyde and Marian Stenholm left their Rockford, Ill., home at 7:30 p.m. to make sure they didn’t miss the homecoming.
“I wouldn’t miss it,” Marian said.
Clyde, a Navy veteran of World War II and the Korean War, went on the first VetsRoll trip last year.
The Stenholms said it was an honor to come out for this year’s welcome home.