Waterloo set to host patriotic extravaganza

Pictured at center is Bob Hope impersonator William Johnson. Johnson will be hosting three USO show reenactments as part of Military Heritage Day this Sunday on the courthouse grounds in Waterloo. (submitted photo)

Many hands went into the making of a one-time patriotic event coming this Sunday to the courthouse grounds in Waterloo to honor those who served this country and observe the Illinois Bicentennial.

From a Hometown Heroes booth to USO show reenactments, the city of Waterloo, in conjunction with local organizations, will bring a unique flavor to the celebration of the state’s 200th birthday with Military Heritage Day.

Shawn Kennedy of the city of Waterloo said the planning began with Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith suggesting a military car show. When the city learned of the state’s call for communities to host Bicentennial events, the wheels started turning.

“It kind of took off from there. We decided that the military car show was not going to be enough,” she noted. “So we added a committee and brainstormed from there.”

Since then, Military Heritage Day has grown to include a full slate of events running from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., beginning with an official United States and Illinois Bicentennial flag raising ceremony by the Scott Air Force Base Color Guard.

Following that, kids will find entertainment in a number of activities including a photo booth with military costumes and props and a “Climb for PTSD” rock climbing wall.

Quilts of Valor plans to bring quilt squares for people to sign, veterans can sign their names on a red-white-and-blue painted picnic table, the Army will entertain with a game and a station to make dog tags, and more.

The Explore Waterloo merchants group also plans to sell t-shirts at the event that will include the Military Heritage Day graphic.

A special performance comes from Starlifter, the U.S. Air Force Band of Mid-America’s group.

For the grand finale, the Original Knights of Swing will perform from 5-8 p.m. as part of the Waterloo Chamber of Commerce’s Downtown Concert Series.

“We’re encouraging people to bring their lawn chair and kind of stay the whole day,” Kennedy said.

Describing them as the “highlights of the day,” Kennedy explained the USO show reenactments — hosted by Bob Hope impersonator William Johnson — will feature performers from Monroe Actors Stage Company and the Monroe County Arts Alliance.

She said the reenactors look to put on musical acts based on popular music from World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War, citing the Andrews Sisters as an example.

“They’re going to try to recreate those USO shows as if they’re in that era. I think those are going to be the highlights of the day,” she said.

As another exciting aspect of Military Heritage Day, local veterans and service members will make an appearance at a Hometown Heroes tent to share their stories with the public. 

Kennedy said the goal is to allow people to see what these heroes experienced in their service. For instance, local resident Fred Meister will share some of the images he captured as an Air Force combat photographer in Korea. 

“We’re trying to promote a living history so people can get the feeling of what it was like for the veterans serving in these wars,” she explained.

Additionally, Kennedy said more Hometown Heroes would be welcome to participate. She said having enough people would enable them to create shifts while having someone at the booth throughout the day.

Aside from that, setting up the morning of “will be our big crunch,” explained Kennedy. 

The rest of the planning came together in part because of a long list of sponsors.

“We couldn’t do this event without all of our sponsors and the support we’ve been getting from the community,” she expressed. “It wasn’t planned to be an annual event. It was just planned to be a special event.”

In addition to Explore Waterloo, other key players include the Waterloo VFW, Waterloo American Legion, Monroe County Arts Alliance and Whiteside Station Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution.

Having an organizational scheme can help as well, and Kennedy showed how every document, note, checklist, itinerary and official piece of paper gets slipped into a binder to keep her and her colleagues in check.

“We keep a binder for every event because usually what we’ve got goes into the binder somewhere,” she said.

In addition to the goal of honoring the nation’s veterans and celebrating the Illinois Bicentennial, Kennedy touted the event as an opportunity to attract new visitors to Waterloo.

“We’re hoping to attract a lot of visitors from all over to showcase Waterloo and see what the city has to offer. The merchants are also going to get some great exposure,” she said.

The city’s press release describes the event as “a wonderful tribute to our military: past, present and future.”

“I think it’s going to come together real well,” Kennedy boasted. “I’m personally super excited about the USO shows. It’s going to be a great event. It’s a unique event that you’re not going to see anywhere else.”

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