SPRINGFIELD, IL (05/11/2017) (readMedia)-- The Illinois Military Academy at Camp Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, hosted a remembrance ceremony May 6 to honor fallen Illinois National Guard Soldiers and Airmen. The ceremony was moved from the Soldier's Memorial at the Illinois State Military Museum to the recently renovated auditorium at the IMA due to inclement weather.
Lt. Col. Maurice Rochelle, Deputy Human Resources and Personnel Officer of the Illinois National Guard, organized the ceremony. He said the auditorium was a fitting location to hold the ceremony as it was designed to pay tribute to all Illinois National Guard Servicemembers, including the fallen.
The stage is trimmed with repurposed wood flooring from the demolished armory in Salem, Illinois, and photos of servicemembers in action adorn the walls. To the left of the stage is a wooden wall where 34 hand-crafted stars hang. Each star represents an Illinois National Guard servicemember who died in combat operations during Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.
Maj. Gen. Richard J. Hayes Jr. of Springfield, Illinois, the Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard, said a lot of thought went into the design.
"We want to drive home the point that we care," said Hayes. "The team that put this together did so in honor of the 34 fallen."
The ceremony opened with a rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" played by Aerin J. White on her violin, followed by the singing of "America the Beautiful" by the Mt. Zion Community School Choir.
To honor the fallen, a wreath and gold-star banner was placed center stage with a small table draped with a white cloth in front of it. Families of the 34 fallen in attendance each placed a single yellow rose upon the table as their loved one's name was read.
"We want to ensure that we will remember them every day," said Hayes. "I personally served with four of the men on that wall and it reminds us of the great sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice those men and women made for their families and their country."
Sarah A. Ngiraibiochel of East Peoria, Illinois, said her stepfather, Army Staff Sgt. Paul Smith, made his family proud, having deployed six times during his career.
"We liked the military more than he did, but he liked to be around other Soldiers" said Ngiraibiochel. "He didn't have to go to Afghanistan, but he was an older Soldier and said he wanted to show them the ropes."
She said the ceremony was amazing and was humbled to know people are still honoring her family. She also encouraged other Gold Star families to attend events like this.
"It's been hard to come to these events," said Ngiraibiochel. "It's ok. It takes time. It's been eight years for us; but it's getting easier to talk about losing him."
Nida Cross said her son, Spc. Kyle Wehrly, enlisted when he was 17. She remembered having to sign his enlistment papers giving consent to join the Illinois Army National Guard.
"I didn't hesitate to sign because I wanted him to know that I supported him," said Cross. "Initially it was for education purposes but it turned in to him becoming a great man and a great Soldier. I know that if he wouldn't have been killed in action, he would be a great leader."
Cross said despite his absence, she still remains involved with her son's unit and their families.
"There's usually a bond between other Gold Star [families], and you can feel it at events like this," said Cross. "You talk with them and share stories. There's a common bond of sadness, pride and camaraderie of the brotherhood our men were with."
Cross also encouraged other families to come out to Gold Star ceremonies in the future.
"I'm very proud of my son for what he did. I think of him every day. I have a sorrowful hole in my heart, but yet I know what he was over there for," said Cross. "I know he was a good leader and I am proud of what he did. I know I will see him again someday."
Following the ceremony, the flowers and wreath were laid in front of the Soldiers' Memorial monument at the Illinois State Military Museum north of Camp Lincoln.
Cutline 1: Gold Star families, along with a crowd of nearly a 150, stand to pray during the Illinois Fallen Heroes ceremony at the Illinois Military Academy, May 6. The Ceremony honors Illinois' 34 Army and Air National Guardsman who made the ultimate sacrifice during Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. (Photos by Army Sgt. Christopher A. Garibay, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment).
Cutline 2: Gold Star families grab a single yellow rose to place under a wreath during the Illinois Fallen Heroes Memorial at the Illinois Military Academy auditorium, May 6. The ceremony served to honor the 34 Soldiers and Airman who were killed in action during combat operations. (Photos by Army Sgt. Christopher A. Garibay, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment).
For high resolution photos, please contact the Illinois National Guard Public Affairs Office at firstname.lastname@example.org
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