SAVOY, Ill. (WCIA) — Motorcycle riders were given a big welcome at Elks Lodge in Savoy on Tuesday as part of the annual Tribute to Fallen Soldiers Northwest motorcycle ride.
They hold the tribute ride every year for fallen soldiers and to visit with gold star families.
Tammy Allen lost her son to suicide and remembers the day this group showed up at her house in Watseka last year. She knew then that she wanted to join and offer another family the same experience. It was a chance to relate to another family and make sure their children aren’t forgotten.
“I met many many gold star families and they are all awesome, just awesome,” Allen said. “We just hug each other and we’re like, ‘We got your back. You’re not alone in this, we’re here for you.'”
The ride takes place across the country, but Allen said it doesn’t matter where you live.
“You’re just a phone call away, and just to let them know that there is other gold star families out there that know what they are going through,” she said.
The organization started in 2009 with the goal of visiting gold star families in Oregon. Buy they quickly realized they needed to expand and visit others across the country, including people in Illinois.
“Eventually, we created the Fallen Soldiers Memorial Torch which now goes across the country from Eugene to Arlington National Cemetery,” said Executive Director Warren Williamson.
Williamson said they are honoring 68 fallen soldiers on this ride. he said the most rewarding part is visiting the families.
“They see us pull up, they already have tears in their eyes because they are so grateful that strangers came to their homes and said ‘We love you and we admire you for your strength and your courage,'” he said.
During this nearly 5000-mile journey, the group made its way through Illinois and stopped for the night at Elks Lodge.
“The motto is ‘Elks care, Elks share,’ so when we had the opportunity to see these people come through and host them, that’s quite a big honor,” said Elks Lodge Officer Jeff Pribble.
Allen said that stopping at places like Elks Lodge makes the emotional trek a little bit easier.
“The hardest part is knowing what those gold star families are going through, because I know,” she said. “And just seeing their faces and know the loss that they feel.”
The riders are spending Wednesday night at Elks Lodge; the Boy Scouts provided some cots for them to sleep on. On Thursday, they will get up and leave to continue their journey to Arlington National Cemetery. Allen and her husband will be traveling with the group most of the way; they plan to stop in Cleveland before heading back to central Illinois.