Why our passion?

“Is Veterans Memorial Circle everything it should be?”

As a nation, we honor all our veterans every November 11 – Veterans Day. For local veterans, we have several year-round memorials in the Rockford area; most are easy to recognize and well documented.

But chances are that you can drive through the roundabout at N. Main and Auburn streets on the west side of Rockford and not see that this site, too, is a memorial to local veterans.

“We talk about how grateful we are. Now it’s time to show it.”

When the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau published its Veterans Memorial Sites in the Region list in 2017, Veterans Memorial Circle was not mentioned.

Since this memorial was dedicated November 2013, ornamental grasses in its landscaping have overgrown, obscuring lettering on the monument signs and overtaking views of the plaques on the four wing walls. Many of the perennials originally planted there have died out. While lawn care for the roundabout’s grounds is being performed by city crews, the intended visual impact of the structure has diminished.

“Is Veterans Memorial Circle everything it should be?” project chair Rick Westlake asked at the September 2018 meeting of Churchill’s Grove Neighborhood Association.

“We talk about how grateful we are. Now it’s time to show it,” project co-chair Ernie Redfern said to neighbors at the association’s January 2019 meeting. Ernie, an Army veteran and student of history, then pointed out the following realities.

Startling realities

'Isn't this what our taxes are for?'

In covering the Veterans Memorial Circle beautification project for the Churchill’s Grove Neighborhood Association newsletter, project co-chair Ernie Redfern writes:

There may be those who read this and ask: ‘Why isn’t local government taking care of it? Isn’t that what our taxes are for?’ 

We asked that ourselves. Our quick answer was no, this should be a private effort – a citizens’ effort.

Our World War II veterans are almost gone. Our Korean War veterans are leaving us fast. Our Vietnam War veterans have reached retirement. And now we have a seemingly endless supply of new veterans with combat experience. The reality is that many soldiers today have spent more time in combat zones than their World War II counterparts and yet, with the absence of unconditional surrender to mark their accomplishments, have received no parades honoring their service.

What message would it send if we abdicated our show of gratitude by leaving it as one more task for local government? If we want to project a sense of pride in our veterans, then we must make that effort as private citizens – doing it from our hearts.

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

– Maj. Gen. John Borling (Ret.), a Rockford resident and U.S. Air Force veteran who kept up the morale of fellow POWs in North Vietnam by tapping poems through the prison cell walls