PEORIA — Savino Sierra remembers going to Memorial Day events at the Peoria County Courthouse when he was a child.

The Korea War-era veteran said his father, himself a veteran of the Mexican revolution in the early 1900s, would bring him to the old courthouse in the 1930s and 1940s. While many things were the same — honoring veterans, patriotism and the flags — there were some differences.

"There were a lot more people here," he said, after the city's annual Memorial Day at the Gateway Building on the riverfront. "But then, everything was closed. They couldn't go do other things."

And while some things might have changed, for more than 200 people at the ceremony, the message was "never forget."

Music played to the moods. From the songs of each service branch came pride for those who served and the families of those who served. But then, at the traditional placing of wreaths to remember the fallen, the music by the Peoria Municipal Band was somber. Several in attendance stood at attention and saluted as a member of the Sea Cadets placed a wreath for each of America's past conflicts.

A World War II veteran of the U.S. Navy sat in the front row. When it came time for him to stand for "Anchors Away," he struggled to rise and was helped by the two men next to him.

Gold Star mothers and family members were there as well. Brenda Bland is the mother of Ben Desilets, 21, a 2004 Elmwood High School graduate who was killed while serving with the U.S. Marines on May 22, 2007, in Iraq's Anbar province. Bland spoke of her son, his strengths and his flaws, in an impassioned and heartfelt way of reminding people what the holiday is about. It touched many around the crowd. A few dabbed their eyes. Some smiled as if they knew the young man. Perhaps they did, or perhaps his story was strikingly similar to many others who were taken far too soon.

Before the city's event was a smaller one near the Illinois River that honored members of the U.S. Navy and Marines who served and who died while in service. Members of the Sea Cadets stood at attention while the American Legion Post 2 honor guard fired a a three-round volley. Taps was played as the flags flapped in the high wind. About 50 people gathered near the riverfront to pay their respects.

It was also the last time former City Councilman Eric Turner will organize the event. A Vietnam veteran, Turner served in the U.S. Army and has been on the council for more than two decades before retiring this spring.

Mark Stickhost, a former U.S. Army reservist, came with his children, ages 10 months, 4 and 6. In addition, his 13-year-old, Kristen Rhoades, was one of the Sea Cadets helping with the ceremony. When asked why he came, he shifted the weight of the 10-month-old he was holding and said it was to remember those who died while serving the nation. But there was more.

"We always come to this, and it's a way for me to teach them about the people who protect our country," he said, looking at his children.

 

Andy Kravetz can be reached at 686-3283 or akravetz@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @andykravetz.