Community men and women came with their children and family members Saturday afternoon to the Joseph Center to say thank you the veterans,those who fought and died for this country as well as those who served and made it back home safely.
“This is not just about a federal holiday or an opportunity to barbeque,” said master of ceremony C. Barlow Bush, who asked the veterans who were in the crowd to stand “ so we can honor you and appreciate you. The sacrifices made by you and your family to protect this nation is why we are here. We are deeply thankful.”
With the American Flag on the left side of the stage and the American Legion Flag on the other, members of American Legion Post 2505 saluted and heaped praise on the men and women who paid the ultimate price for the freedom Americans enjoy today. They also saluted those veterans who either were drafted or made the decision to go into the various branches of the military and who made it back home safely. Bells tolled and patriot music floated through the outdoor air as the names of some of those from East St. Louis who died serving this country were read off one by one by American Legion Post 2505 members Virge Riley, Pearson Bush and Joe Radford. High above in the sky, a brilliant yellow sun warmed the day and made it bright and royal.
John Barnes, band director at East St. Louis Senior High School, stirred emotions in the crowd as he blew “Taps” on his bugle. People sat at attention and seemed to be reflecting on those who lost their lives. Some wiped away tears. Some stood and clapped
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Then it was time to honor a man that everyone agreed should be honored. Leon Jenkins is terminally ill with a heart condition, his wife Janet said. He was not able to attend the service, but his wife accepted a huge plaque awarded to him by his brothers in American Legion Post 2505.
“Comrade Leon Jenkins is a veteran of the Vietnam War era and he is a retired social worker (case worker for public aid). But, it was his volunteer service that makes him stand out. Leon is a certified service officer. For more than 20 years, he helped other veterans find and take advantage of benefits that are due them through the St. Clair County Veterans Assistance Commission. In some instances, Leon applied for benefits and find benefits they didn’t know they had. His second story office had an elevator, but many seniors could not not always access it because it was a considerable distance from the parking lot. So, Leon traveled to Southwestern Illinois College’s Programs and Services for Older Persons senior center to help those who had trouble getting to him. He also volunteered at Catholic Urban Programs. He helped feed the homeless he encountered at Catholic Urban Programs. Leon said he loved God, and He is the inspiration for his volunteer service,” Chaplain Frank Smith said.
Janet Jenkins fought back tears and, with her voice cracking, she thanked the members of the post for honoring her husband. She said her 72-year old husband misses what he was doing. She said he won’t get better. “It’s very hard on him. He has to sit and rest. He assisted people all of his life, even in the Goose Hill neighborhood where he grew up,” she said. She and her husband live in Cahokia and have four children.
Newly appointed East St. Louis city Councilwoman June Hamilton Dean said the day that many people came out to was “an important occasion.”
“We’re here to honor our heroes, to remember their achievements, their courage and their dedication and to say thank you for their sacrifices and the sacrifices of your families. The service members we honor today came from all walks of life, but they shared several fundamental qualities – courage, pride determination, selflessness, and dedication to duty and integrity. Thank you for answering the call to duty. You made our armed forces the most respected in the world. God bless you and your families. God bless our troops and God bless America,” she said.
Smith reminded the audience that the next time they see a person on the corner begging, they may be a U.S. veteran who just returned. He said the U.S. needs to do more to take care of its veterans. And, he was not alone in that thought. Ella Nunn was in complete agreement. “It’s a special honor to think that people love this country so much that they sacrificed their lives for our freedom. There are no words to express gratitude. It’s very sad to see the men and women who have served this country come back to nothing.
Jacqueline Smith said, “Memorial Day is for remembering our veterans who have fallen. But, it is also a time to remember family. friends and loved ones who have gone before you. Death is so fleeting. It comes without notice.”
Linda Radford said she is always moved when she thinks of the sacrifices the veterans made to preserve freedom. She was pleased with the crowd that turned out to say thanks. There can never be enough thanks said for what they have done, she said.
The crowd milled around afterward and mixed conversation with food and refreshments. Special recognition was paid to Bill and Linda Mixon of Mixon Insurance Agency for the refreshments and food that was cooked and served. Bush said they never stop helping out in East St. Louis, and they always work in the background.