Distinguished Air Force veteran, Gen. Borling, joins roundabout project

Gen John Borling joins Rockford Veterans Circle Memorial beautification project
Air Force veteran Maj. Gen. John Borling poses for a photo with Churchill’s Grove neighbors and Friends of Veterans Memorial Circle co-chairs Helen Karakoudas Redfern and Ernie Redfern at The Norwegian brunch pub in Rockford, Illinois. | Photo by M&M PHOTOGRAPHY

ROCKFORD, Illinois – A community initiative to bring attention and beauty to the roundabout at North Main and Auburn streets – the intersection officially known as Veterans Memorial Circle – has caught the eye of an Air Force veteran in the neighborhood.

Maj. Gen. John Borling, a retired fighter pilot who for 6 years and 8 months of his 37 years in the U.S. Air Force was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, is joining the roundabout beautification project as an advisor.

Over breakfast Thursday morning, March 21, 2019, at The Norwegian, a new brunch pub on Rockford’s west side that itself is reviving the intersection, Gen. Borling met with Helen Karakoudas Redfern and Ernie Redfern, fellow Churchill’s Grove neighbors and co-chairs of the Friends of Veterans Memorial Circle committee.

“It was heartening to see General Borling jumping onboard to be part of our privately funded, all-citizen effort to make a head-turning statement here about how a community respects the sacrifice of its vets,” Ernie Redfern, an Army veteran, said after the meeting. Ernie is project supervisor for Spruce Up Day, the weeding and planting marathon that he and project chair, Churchill’s Grove resident Rick Westlake, are coordinating for Saturday, May 11, 2019 to bring vibrant color to grounds at the center, end caps, median strips and exterior walls of the roundabout.

Neighborhood history, pride

Churchill’s Grove, which bounds the southeastern edge of the roundabout, is the near-downtown neighborhood on the west banks of the Rock River that during the Civil War was Camp Fuller, a Union training camp.

Churchill’s Grove Neighborhood Association is an incubator for the roundabout beautification project, which is growing to include team leaders from surrounding neighborhoods. The project is 100% funded by private donations.

Gen. Borling is a resident of Churchill’s Grove for almost two decades. “The general,” as he is known in the neighborhood, is the author of Taps on the Walls: Poems from the Hanoi Hilton – a book published in 2013 on the day that marked four decades after the release of American POWs from the Hoa Lo prison in North Vietnam.

“… poems were tapped through the walls from one POW to another to boost morale …” Sen. John McCain

‘Survival with honor’

The foreword to Gen. Borling’s book was written by the late Sen. John McCain, Gen. Borling’s friend and fellow POW.

A national speaker about the challenges that soldiers face during and after war, Gen. Borling was a sought-after commentator in the days following Sen. McCain’s death. In a television news interview on August 27, 2018, he underscored how vital it is for soldiers to be held in high esteem by the citizens they serve:

“In the end, it wasn’t about survival. It was about survival with honor. We wanted you all to be proud of us,” Gen. Borling said.

Can-do spirit

At the breakfast meeting, the roundabout project co-chairs shared with the general both the passion behind Friends of Veterans Memorial Circle and the progress that this citizens’ initiative in Rockford has made in the weeks since its publicity began:

  • Donations from individuals and organizations, reaching more than $2,000 of the fundraising goal of $3,500 for colorful annuals.
  • Local greenhouses offering discounts.
  • Local landscapers offering guidance.
  • Local businesses pledging front-end loaders, trailers and dirt.
  • Support from the City of Rockford through the police department by identifying ways to enhance safety during Spruce Up Day.
  • Support from the City of Rockford through the Public Works department by assuring that the irrigation system at the roundabout and media strips will be fully operational by Spruce Up Day.
  • A unanimous vote by the cadets leading Auburn High School’s Army JROTC battalion to adopt this neighborhood initiative as their community service project.
  • Praise from Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara and Third Ward Alderman Chad Tuneberg, each applauding the can-do effort of community members taking on a project of this scale.


“It’ll be a full community effort with a lot of activity,” Ernie Redfern assured the general. “We are going to make things pop.”

Rain date for Spruce Up Day is Saturday, May 18.

A rededication ceremony is planned for 3 p.m. Sunday, May 19.

Learn more about the beautification project:





by Helen Karakoudas Redfern | Co-chair, Friends of Veterans Memorial Circle

Helen Karakoudas Redfern is working on the Beautify Veterans Memorial Circle project with Rick Westlake, chair and manager of volunteer recruitment and fundraising, and with Ernie Redfern, co-chair and project planning supervisor. Helen is in charge of promotion. You can reach her at helen@rockfordveteranscircle.org.

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