DEKALB, Ill. (WTVO) — One week prior to Veterans Day, local veterans gathered to watch over the Veteran Vigil outside of the DeKalb County Courthouse.
For 24 hours each year, they stand guard — surrounded by American flags adorned with the names of other veterans, many of who never came home.
“This is an annual event in Dekalb County for years, where we decided we need to bring light to honor our veterans,” said veteran Robert Coulter. “Not only from current wars but all the past wars. Each one of these flags represents one or more veterans who have served in the service, regardless of whichever branch they may have served in.”
Veteran Dwain Adkins, who supervises the event, added, “It doesn’t matter whether you were in combat or not, whether you served in the United States, whether you served any place. As far as we’re concerned, you’re a brother.”
The vigil, over its 37-year standing, has constantly been innovated to keep it alive.
“It started out in ’86 from Vietnow, to give it recognition, publicity to Vietnam veterans,” Adkins said. “We agreed that was a very small population, that if we were going to sustain this as a grass-roots type of tradition, that we were going to have to broaden it, which was no more than right.”
“It started with Vietnam. Now they did a plaque, they started a vigil, then they added twenty to thirty flags,” said veteran Frank Beierlotzer. “Many years, later we added a hundred more flags.”
With the decrease in military population in America over the past years, veterans feel it is their responsibility to make sure none are forgotten.
“There’s roughly only 2% that serve in the military now,” Adkins said. “It used to be, when the draft was in, 10% or 11%. So, you had quite a few families that were impacted by someone being in the service. It’s not that way anymore. It can, really easily, be lost in the shuffle when you have 98% that aren’t in the military. It’s hard for them to identify what it’s like, and so that’s why we do it.”
Coulter said, “Well, one of the things all the veterans are doing is they are trying to keep it in people’s minds that veterans served at a time when a lot of people didn’t, and we want them to know that for the freedoms we enjoy there was a price to pay, and some of it is in the lives of our veterans that didn’t come home or didn’t make it, as well as those that did. To continue that legacy that freedom is not free,” he said.
Both men said there is nothing that brings them more joy than being acknowledged by the community they served.
“If one person shows up, it means a lot,” Coulter said. “Because it knows people still want to be free and they are thankful, that they know people are willing to serve their country.”