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flag vietnam

Follow the Flag participants carry the American flag past the Illinois Vietnam Memorial in Springfield on their way to the World War II Memorial, during a tour saluting first responders and veterans. Herald & Review/Lisa Morrison

DECATUR - The idea of following a large flag that has flown at the sites of the two worst attacks on U.S. soil in history appealed to about 50 patriotic motorcycle riders.

The bikers, including several military veterans and one Army reservist, headed out from the parking lot of Coziahr Harley-Davidson/Buell in Forsyth early Saturday afternoon, riding toward Springfield behind the 12-by-20-foot flag that was displayed in a plastic frame in the bed of a pickup truck.

The ride, which was to include a stop at Lincoln's Tomb and end at Decatur American Legion Post 105, was sponsored by the Decatur-based United States Emergency Chaplains Corps, to honor the service of veterans and first responders and commemorate the events of 9/11.

Steve Holden, director of the chaplain corps, said the flag has flown at the Flight 93 National Memorial at Shanksville, Pa., and the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

It was apparent that the Stars and Stripes is held in high esteem by those who planned to spend much of their day riding behind one particularly distinguished national symbol.

Terry Dickson of Decatur, an Army veteran who served with the Americal Division in Vietnam four decades ago, said he was inspired to come out for the ride because he is patriotic.

"I want to follow the flag that's been on the Arizona," said Dickson, 61, a Harley Road King rider whose colors include a large patch proclaiming his membership in the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association.

John Smick, 65, who served with the 3rd Marine Division in Vietnam in 1967, said he does not generally like riding in groups but wanted to participate Saturday because it was a special occasion.

Smick, who rides a 2005 Kawasaki Concours, also is planning to take part in a ride commemorating 9/11 in North Carolina next month. A Moweaqua resident, Smick also puts aside his aversion to group rides to join the Patriot Guard in their processions, in honor of service members who have sacrificed their lives or returned home safely.

Spc. Kyle Kolesar, a reservist with the Decatur-based 236th Transportation Company, said he came out to pay his respects to the memory of 9/11.

A 2004 graduate of Argenta-Oreana High School, Kolesar said he was inspired to join the Army by the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which he heard about while sitting in a classroom. Kolesar, 26, said he "knew right then" he wanted to fight for his country. He joined the Army shortly after graduation, serving five years in the regular Army, including tours in Iraq in 2006 and 2008 with the 4th Infantry Division. An all-wheeled vehicle mechanic, Kolesar said he suffered injuries in Iraq in his shoulder, knee and lumbar region.

Kolesar, dressed in his camo-colored Army uniform while surrounded by bikers in leather jackets or street clothes, said he appreciated people coming out to honor the flag.

"That flag's here for you," Kolesar said.

After 21 years of service in the Army, Terry Blankenship of Decatur retired June 1. He and his wife, Tresa, rode Saturday on board his Honda Sabre 1100.

Blankenship, 50, who served two tours in Iraq, one in Afghanistan and one in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in the First Gulf War, said his respect for the flag was a key factor in his decision to take part in the event.

"Anything dealing with the American flag, I'll do anything with it," Blankenship said.


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