Effingham Daily News
Memorial Day weekend found Effingham and surrounding towns bustling with activity.
Some festivities took on a solemn tone as residents made trips to cemeteries to decorate the graves of soldiers killed in action or took the time to thank area veterans for their service.
Other weekend celebrations rang in the unofficial first weekend of summer in style, as more than 700 people flocked to Kluthe Memorial Pool in Effingham for its opening day and current and former Watson residents gathered together for the town’s annual homecoming.
Perhaps the most impressive and patriotic of this weekend’s gatherings was that of the hundreds of World War II veterans who descended on Effingham Monday for the Central Illinois Honor Flight fundraiser.
The honor flight group has paid the way for 348 veterans from the so-called “greatest generation” to visit the World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., over the last two years, and many of them were present at the Effingham Knights of Columbus Building in Effingham Monday with heartfelt words of gratitude.
“It was the most exciting thing I think I’ve ever seen,” said Armin S. Rigsvey of Woodriver, an Army vet who served in the Philippines during the war.
The sentiment was shared by fellow honor flight participants, who shared their stories Monday over a traditional Memorial Day luncheon of barbecued chicken and pork.
“The magnificence of it — it’s just gorgeous,” Mount Vernon Air Corps veteran Don Jones said.
But just as much as seeing the memorial dedicated to their sacrifices, the honor flight veterans at Monday’s fundraiser expressed they were just as touched by the expressions of gratitude they received during their trip.
Rigsvey, the Army vet, recounted the hero’s welcome he received after landing in the capital.
“When we got to Washington, D.C., they sprayed the plane in an arch with water, and the band started playing,” he said. “It was very exciting.
Jones, the airman, had a similar story about how he and his fellow veterans were greeted with applause and handshakes as they walked off their plane.
“They applauded and clapped as we walked by. It was really quite moving,” he said.
Another honor flight veteran had a less grandiose, but just as heartwarming, story of the recognition he received on the trip — a final mail call.
World War II sailor Marion Robb of Argenta fondly recalled how the honor flight program brought back one of his favorite traditions from his Navy days by having his loved ones write letters.
“Unbeknownst to us, they had asked friends and relatives to send us letters thanking us for our service,” said Arguta, who himself received 27 letters. “It was really just like mail call. That was one of the things you really missed.”
The honor flight group spends about $400 per veteran to get them to the memorial. In addition, the group sends guardians who pay their own way to travel alongside the veterans.
An estimate of how much money was raised at Monday’s event was unavailable at presstime, but attendance at the event was more than 1,700 people.
LEGACY OF FREEDOM
There was no shortage of gratitude for veterans’ service Monday at the Effingham Performance Center, formerly the Rosebud Theatre, when Three Chicks and a Stage put on a musical tribute, “Legacy of Freedom.”
The show took its audience on a chronological journey through U.S. military actions, from the Revolutionary War to the War on Terrorism, providing musical interpretations of soldiers and families stories. Together, vocalists and actors told the story of a young soldier killed in the Civil War, a young man adjusting to army life in World War II (“How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning”), and of protesters during the Vietnam War.
The performance wrapped up with a tribute to veterans, and there wasn’t enough room at the front of the theater to hold all the servicemen and women — many of them World War II veterans in town for the honor flight fundraiser — who were recognized.
Local Memorial Day festivities were about more than celebrating the veterans among us today. Across the Effingham area, residents visited cemeteries and memorials to remember veterans who have died and soldiers who were killed in the line of duty.
In Mason, local historian Delaine Donaldson reminded his audience of exactly what those soldiers were fighting for.
“We always must be willing to give thanks for those who have gone before us and those still with us who fought to preserve a way of life that much of the world would like to destroy,” Donaldson said Sunday, addressing his audience from the speaker’s stand in Mason Union Cemetery.
For Mason residents on this particular Memorial Day weekend, the Civil War veterans buried in the local cemetery were at the front on their minds, as Civic Club members and Civil War re-enactors helped to rededicate the newly refurbished statue that stands in honor of “the boys from 1861 to 1865.”
Stewardson residents also gathered at the cemetery for the purpose of remembering veterans at rest there. The Rev. C. W. Lewis of Stewardson United Methodist church led the community in a chorus of “God Bless America,” and American Legion Post 611 fired a volley in tribute of the fallen.
In Dieterich, village residents could be found at the Community Veteran’s Memorial, where they paid tribute by presenting a wreath at a wall inscribed with the names of fallen U.S. veterans and by planting flags around the memorial.
In many communities, there was a festive spirit in the air as families and communities came together to celebrate the unofficial beginning of summer.
For Watson residents, the weekend was quite literally a reunion, as the town celebrated its 26th annual Watson Area Homecoming. The celebration kicked off with a Saturday morning parade and was highlighted with concerts by St. John’s Brass and Cayla Hamby that evening with fireworks starting at dark. Sunday festivities included the crowning of the town’s Little Miss and Queen, and, a relatively new addition to the homecoming, Watson’s finest, a pageant for the men of the town.
And for anyone who needed relief from the weekend’s soaring temperatures that stuck around for most of the outdoor ceremonies and parties, the Kluthe Memorial Pool in Effingham offered a refreshing opportunity to cool down. More than 700 people flocked to the pool in the first three hours after its Saturday grand opening for the summer season, which offered free admission all day. Kids of all ages could be seen slipping down the pool’s themed slides, playing in its water geysers, or even taking the first dive of the summer into the aqua-blue deep end.
Amanda King can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 138 or firstname.lastname@example.org.