The words “hero” and “role models” are “bandied about kind of carelessly,” Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn said in Vandalia last Wednesday.
Many times, a hero is described as a professional baseball player who hits a home run in the ninth inning, Quinn said while speaking at the unveiling of the “Portrait of a Soldier” memorial at the Kaskaskia College Vandalia Campus.
But the true heroes and role models, Quinn said, are the 191 men and women whose portraits are included in the memorial created by Mattoon artist Cameron Shilling. The soldiers in that memorial are the Illinois men and women who have died in service to their country since Sept. 11, 2001.
“Each of them is an All-American hero,” Quinn said, speaking next to portraits of five soldiers from this region who are part of the memorial exhibit.
The exhibit is one way of making sure that the citizens of Illinois remember those who gave their all for their country, Quinn said.
In delivering the Gettysburg Address, Quinn said, “He said it is the duty of all of us, the living, to remember those who gave their last full measure of devotion to our democracy.
“So, we owe an eternal debt of gratitude to each and every one of these men and women,” he said.
“If you look into the eyes of these men and women, you see the soul of somebody very special, because God didn’t give them a long life – he gave them a life well-lived ee and I hope that all of us are inspired by that,” Quinn said.
“Each and every one of these men and women are the best of the best.
“Each and every one of these men and women were alive on Sept. 11, 2001, and I know that each of them, in their hearts, said they would go forward in the face of extreme danger and defend our democracy,” Quinn said.
Also speaking at Wednesday’s ceremony was Dr. James Underwood, Kaskaskia College president.
“This is a very touching exhibit,” Underwood said. “What a tribute this is to these men and women who served this country so proudly.”
Speaking as a veteran who served in Vietnam, Underwood said he understands the sacrifices that the soldiers included in the exhibit made for their country.
“These are truly heroes that are exhibited here today,” he said.
Vandalia Mayor Rick Gottman also delivered a brief address.
“Without the sacrifices of the lives of soldiers like these in the exhibit, we would not be living in one of the greatest countries in the world,” Gottman said.