Reporting Mike Krauser
MARSEILLES, Ill. (CBS) – June 15 marks the 10th anniversary of the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial on the Illinois River in Marseilles. There will be a motorcycle ride from the Grundy County Fairgounds on that day, and a ceremony at the memorial.
It’s the war memorial that most people don’t even know exists, even after ten years.
It bears the names of more than 7,000 soldiers killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tom Yarber, with the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run Foundation, which built and maintains the memorial, says, “We’re the first people in the history of the united states to ever put up a wall memorial like this where the names are added while the war is ongoing.”
They’re bikers who want the families to know their loved ones will never be forgotten.
Like a lot of bikers, Yarber has a nickname. “Most of the families know me as Big Daddy,” he says.
Yarber’s role is family liason. He spends a lot of time on the phone with family members and meets them in person when they come to see the wall memorial.
For Yarber, this is personal. He lost his brother in Vietnam says, “It’s bothered me every since I was 9 years old because he was my hero.”
He says for many, seeing loved ones names engraved in the 13 black granite panels helps them to heal.
“We’re doing this to help heal their hearts, “ he says, “ because there’s so much burden on them and there’s so much pain that just knowing that there’s someone in this country that actually cares about their loved one really means a lot to these families.”
Those who donate to the Freedom Run Foundation on June 15th will get dog tags bearing a name on the wall.
Yarber wears them every day, Joshua Reeves, a soldier he never knew from Georgia.
He says Reeves’ wife was pregnant when he went to Iraq and when his new son was born he was able to see him on the internet. The next morning, he was killed by an IED.
There are 7443 names etched into the 13 black granite memorial panels and another 226 will be added this month.
Each has a story to tell, Yarber says, and families can share those stories, as well as photographs, on the website, http://ilmotorcyclefreedomrun.org.
He also hopes a lot of people come for the ceremony in Marseilles. He says the town could use an economic boost after getting hard by the recent flooding.