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Twin cities plan joint military celebration

Officials hope Armed Forces weekend is the first of many

Sixty-four years ago, President Harry S. Truman combined separate celebrations to thank each military branch when he established Armed Forces Day. Sterling and Rock Falls have taken the collaboration one step further.

The inaugural Rock Falls-Sterling Joint Armed Forces Day Celebration will be in full swing at three sites this weekend.

Mayors Bill Wescott of Rock Falls and Skip Lee of Sterling have worked with several military organizations to plan and organize the 2-day affair.

“Mayor Wescott spearheaded it and brought me and representatives of various armed forces groups together,” Lee said. “We’ve been meeting since January to bring it all together.”

The celebration was initially planned for Memorial Day weekend, the Sterling mayor said.

“There were conflicts with other events, so we decided that we could most effectively do something on Armed Forces weekend,” Lee said.

This year’s events will feature many Honor Flight participants. Whiteside County Board member John Espinoza, a Marine veteran, is a member of the Honor Flight committee that has been instrumental in organizing events and choosing 12 veterans who will be introduced during a recognition ceremony at 2 p.m. Sunday at Grandon Civic Center.

“There will be two winners from each branch, and two women from Honor Flight will get special recognition,” Espinoza said. “We feel that female vets haven’t received the recognition they deserve.”

Lee said it can be difficult finding local members of the Coast Guard, and any help from the community would be appreciated.

Espinoza says he hopes this Armed Forces weekend is the first of many. With more planning time, he believes organizers can make it bigger and better.

“We had hoped to have a parade and traveling exhibits, but it just didn’t work out this year on such short notice,” Espinoza said.

On Saturday, events are planned from 1 to 5 p.m. at Sinnissippi Park in Sterling. Families can bring their own food for a picnic at the park. Firehouse of God will provide bounce houses for the kids and fire truck rides. Other activities include a Civil War encampment, a climbing wall, military vehicle display, and informational booths for veterans.

Sunday’s activities begin with a nondenominational church service at 9 a.m. at Hinders Memorial Field, 508 15th Ave., in Rock Falls. The rain site is Immanuel Lutheran Church, 501 Eighth Ave., in Rock Falls. Retired Col. Mike Durham, a former Army chaplain at West Point, will lead the service. Nashville, Tennessee, musician Jim Worthing will sing hymns.

Then it’s back to Sterling for the awards and recognition ceremony at Grandon. Major Michelle Williams of the Rock Island Arsenal Command will be keynote speaker. In addition to the vets’ ceremony, local youth essay contest winners will be announced.

Schedule of events

Saturday, May 17

1 to 5 p.m. at Sinnissippi Park, Sinnissippi Road, Sterling

– Veterans Family Day Picnic (bring your own food)

– Firehouse of God bounce houses and fire truck rides

– Civil War encampment activities

– National Guard recruiters climbing wall

– Military vehicle display

Sunday, May 18

– Nondenominational community church service, 9 a.m. at Hinders Memorial Park, 508 15th Ave., Rock Falls

– Military awards and recognition ceremony. 2 p.m. at Grandon Civic Center, 602 First Ave., Sterling

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