No kidding, there I was (because every good military story seems to start this way) in front of everyone on a platform in Silvis, Illinois. They invited me to give some remarks at their Veterans Day ceremony, and it’s one of the most interesting places you’ve probably never heard of. Most folks haven’t even heard of the Quad Cities, and few have heard of Rock Island Arsenal, a hidden gem in the middle of the Mississippi River. Well, that’s also where the sleepy community of Silvis is.
It’s a small industrial town with a long history marked by immigrants and their unusual demographic of service to America. There are towns of all sizes across America claiming to be the most patriotic, but Silvis is one of the few who can walk that walk and talk that talk.
During World War II and Korea, 22 families sent 87 of their sons and husbands to WWII and the Korean War. While that figure may not seem particularly impressive at first glance, it is quite a big deal when you consider these were 87 people from one street that was a block-and-a-half long.
Originally known as Second Street, it was renamed “Hero Street” after the eight fallen Soldiers from those two wars who never made it back home to Silvis, a place they called home after immigrating from Mexico. Most of those who immigrated to the United States and come to Silvis sought work on the railroads and in the engine repair shop in town and, after initially living in boxcars as housing was built, they settled in Silvis.
But, like I said no kidding there I was, next up to speak when the town invited a local veteran to speak – Brian Munoz.
Brian got up and told his story, and wow - what a story. He spoke of growing up three streets over and coming to Hero Street to play with his cousins and spend time with family, as kids do. He spoke about the uncles and aunts, the father and other family members who served in all branches of the U.S. military, and how they had inspired him to serve.
He told us stories about how those original 22 immigrant families have left a legacy of service that continues today with hundreds of their kids, grandkids, and great grandkids now serving. He implored the crowd to support veterans and spoke passionately about our duty as Americans to protect and defend the Constitution, and our way of life.
Then, Brian asked all the veterans in the crowd to come up, stand next to the platform we were on and be recognized by name. Men, women, young, and old came up; but what was really amazing was the presence of a WWII veteran, Paul, celebrating his 100th birthday on Veterans Day. Paul got up with a little assistance and walked over to be recognized – Bryan told him he didn’t have to, but Paul wasn’t having any of that.
Brian’s comment to all of those assembled to honor the veterans of Silvis – “Of course, he wants to walk over because he’s a veteran.”
I got chills (and maybe teared up a little bit).
It’s inspiring to be among such men and women. My heart overflows with appreciation to these veterans, and to all of America, who recognize the service and sacrifice of those who have worn the uniforms of our military over the years. It’s never been a better time in America to be in the military or a veteran, never in the history of any country. So, I want to say thank you to all those who served, and to all of America for supporting us.
I want to especially thank the families and friends of Hero Street for making my Veterans Day speaking engagement a moment now treasured. As always, you put me at ease from the moment I arrived today.
Well, except for Brian, because I had to follow him on stage. There was no way I could top his stories of how the men of Hero Street inspired generations of service.
There is a greatness about the legacy such men that cannot be matched, and I was humbled and filled with gratitude as I stood there in their memories… being all I could be.