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There were 2 stars at Merrill School

Sterling man gets a surprise thanks for his military service

ROCK FALLS – The thanks a Sterling man received for his service was cut from a special cloth – much like the men and women the keepsake is meant to honor.

Nelson Vasquez, 58, was presented with a star and a heartfelt thanks Thursday, part of an effort by ABC Americorps of Sauk Valley Community College and Foster Grandparents of Senior Corps to honor service members.

The Merrill Elementary School janitor was surprised with the patriotic pat on the back during a brief morning ceremony at the school, accompanied by volunteers from both groups, along with students and staff.

Vasquez was a sergeant with the 1644th Transportation Unit of the Army National Guard. He served for 14 years and 3 months and saw combat from 2004-05 in the Gulf War during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The group presented Vasquez with the star – cut from a retired American flag – in the principal’s office, which caught him a little off guard.

“When you go in that office, you’re in trouble.” Vasquez joked – and he should know. He’s worked at the school for 7 years and attended school there back in 1963.

But when all was said and done, Vasquez was humbled by the presentation.

“I always liked the military since I was about 5 years old,” he said, adding that he was inspired to sign up by family members who had served and TV shows he had seen.

Vasquez said he plans to put the award in his bible with other keepsakes.


Want to help other service members share the some honor that Vasquez received? You can donate retired flags to Stars for Our Troops Inc. where the stars will be cut from the flag and presented to service members. Go to for more information on donating flags, and having stars sent to service members.


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