EAST ST. LOUIS — Dark clouds loomed in the sky above and the threat of rain hung around with a few sprinkles of rain dropping here and there during a Memorial Day service.
But those who came out to remember those who fought and died or survived, or those with lasting memories from the wounds they sustained while fighting to protect the freedoms Americans have, said enduring the rain was a small price for them to pay to say thanks to those who have given so much.
American Legion Post 2505 hosted the event Saturday afternoon and organizers plan to make it an annual celebration.
Frank Smith, the organizer of the event, said plenty of men and women from East St. Louis fought in wars and some of then paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Smith said he joined American Legion Post 2505 two years ago and it is one of the best decisions he's made.
"The men and women in East St. Louis came out today," Smith said. "They were glad to be a part of something like this and everybody here got the opportunity to say thanks and remember some of the people from their community who died fighting for freedoms for Americans and those who came back home, too," he said.
Taps played in the background as the roll was called to acknowledge the fallen legionnaires. Then the spotlight was turned to the military survivors who sat in the audience.
A table faced the crowd. On it was an American flag that was folded military style and the sketched pictures of three black soldiers who are missing in action.
"Pray for all of our military personnel who were killed in action -- for all of those who have gone on to be with the Lord," Pearson Bush, the guest speaker, told the crowd.
Retired Chief Master Sgt. Bob Ellison belted out Ray Charles' version of "America the Beautiful" and stirred the crowd up.
Rain was falling outside the tent, but no one left their seats. Ellison also sang "God Bless America," his voice melodiously fluctuating between high and low notes. He even showed the crowd he could hit the high soprano range. This electrified the crowd. They were deeply moved and let him hear their gratitude with loud thunderous claps. He sang on.
Later, Ellison said when he sings patriotic songs he always feels "blessed to have been out there where they were. I spent 32 years in the Air Force. I was in Vietnam twice -- in '64 and again in '68. Then I came back home. It was then that I realized how much danger there was, especially for the guys who had to go out on the front lines. When I think about and realize what they had to face it takes me on a whole different mental flight. I was there. I lived that. I realize that I am standing on the shoulders of brothers who didn't get to come back home. We have to do them proud."
"God bless them and all of the veterans everywhere. God bless those who are serving our country today," he said.
Gordon Bush, a past post commander, told the crowd that he was in the military 29 years and learned a lot.
"I was drafted July 29, 1966. I was in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and was stationed in Germany," he said.
He said that day was filled with emotion for his family because it was also the same day his younger brother Pearson Bush was drafted.
"We were feeling hurt when we were drafted, especially two at the same time," Gordon Bush said. "It turned out to be one of the most positive things in my life. It gave me the opportunity to grow up in the military. My brother made first lieutenant colonel. I ended up a lieutenant colonel. We got tough training in the officer cadet school."
The ceremony was "a chance to recall and express our true love and appreciation for those who serve our country and keep America the strongest nation in the world," Bush said.
Bill Ford, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, said he injured his leg in a parachute jump in 1966 and later had to get both of his hips replaced. He said Saturday's event was "great." He said it was an opportunity to bring everyone together regardless of what branch of the military they served in.
"Those individuals who made a commitment to serve our country want to be home with their families and at soccer games and other events. But, they can't because they are serving this country and protecting our freedoms," Ford said.
Bill and Linda Mixon, owners of Mixon Insurance Agency provided food and refreshments for the crowd after the event.
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.