Shawn Gregoire, her husband John and a group of other family and friends made the trip from Chicago to Marseilles on Saturday to see the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial.
Gregoire and her group were there to honor her son, Army Specialist Michael Isaiah Nance, who was killed in Afghanistan on July 29, 2019.
Nance’s name was one of 22 added to the wall this year, and those 22 soldiers were honored in a ceremony Saturday.
“I really loved it,” Gregoire said. “I have not been here. It’s our first time coming. We’ve been anxiously waiting for them to add his name to the wall. My family and I were out here with some friends. We wouldn’t have missed it for anything. It’s really beautiful.”
Before the ceremony, Gregoire and her group found Nance’s name on the wall, took pictures and etched his name on paper.
“It means a lot,” Gregoire said about having her son’s name on the wall. “It means he’ll never be forgotten.”
Gregoire’s family was one of several Gold Star families in attendance for Saturday’s ceremony.
“To us, it gives us a chance to read his name and hear all the other names that are on the wall,” said Kylie Riney of Farmington, who came with her children, Ella, 7, and James, 6, to honor her husband, Sgt. Douglas Riney. “We know that his memory is alive.”
The Freedom Run motorcycle ride typically associated with the ceremony was canceled this year because of COVID-19, but Vice President Mike Osterloh said the organization was determined to still honor the fallen soldiers.
The ceremony started with the presentation of the flags before the Pledge of Allegiance was recited and the national anthem performed.
“Tony Cutrano, the founder of this organization, once said, ‘Dying for freedom isn’t the worst that could happen, being forgotten is.’ I’m glad we’re here so we won’t forget many of our soldiers,” said Arturo Juarez, who asked for a moment of silence before leading a prayer.
Steve Coyne played "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes before Gold Star mothers Denise Williams and Millie Hickey read the names of the 22 soldiers added to the wall this year.
“Say their names,” Hickey said. “Remember them as we remember them. Remember the silly things they did. Remember how they made you smile. Remember the love you have for them.”
Marseilles Mayor Jim Hollenbeck spoke before a 21-gun salute, and the playing of taps concluded the ceremony.
“With this being a year [when] we had to cancel so many things, including our annual Freedom Run, I’m grateful we were finally able to spend time together and honor these soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice, as well as their families and loved ones who now have to live with that sacrifice,” Hollenbeck said. “I didn’t know these soldiers, but my respect for them is immediate, unquestionable and it will never waiver.
“My prayers are that someday we can stand up here and not have a single name to add to the wall.”
The 22 names added this year are: Marshal Roberts, Juan Miguel Mendez Covarrubias, Diego Pongo, Moises Navas, Antonio Rey Rodriguez, Javier Jaguar Gutierrez, Henry Mayfield, Miguel Villalon, Ian McLaughlin, Michael Goble, Scott Koppenhafer, James Johnston, Michael Riley, James Sartor, Michael Isaiah Nance, Brandon Kreischer, Figueroa DeLeon, Jose Gonzalez, Dustin Ard, Elis Barreto Ortiz, Jeremy Griffin and Lars Chew.