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American Legion marks 300th rally for troops



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November 10, 2010 | 09:08 AM
Elkhorn — This week's 300th Support Our Troops rally was something of a celebration.

Starting at 11 a.m. Monday, Nov. 8, the rally was to honor all those troops who have since come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and of those preparing to return. It was recognition of an event that was originally thought would last only 10 weeks.

And it was a solemn reminder of those few who gave all in their service and who will not be coming home again.

The meeting, held in a second-floor community room at the Walworth County Government Center, 100 W. Walworth St., Elkhorn, started with the Star-Spangled Banner played on modest boombox, and then a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. About 45 people came to show their support.

Joining in was Merrilee Carlson of Hastings, Minn., is mother of Sgt. Michael "Shrek" Carlson, who was killed in Iraq on Jan. 24, 2005.

She is also founder, and chairwoman, of Families United to Support Our Troops and Their Mission, now headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Carlson said she and other parents of servicemen and women decided they had to get out the stories of those who served overseas.

"We decided to band together to talk about the heroes' stories," she said.

"We need to get all of their stories out, so the next generation will love our country as much as we do."

Families United describes itself as a nonprofit charitable organization of Gold and Blue Star families, veterans and citizens.

The group describes its mission as to honor the fallen, support those who fight and serve their families through programs, events and outreach.

The organization was founded in August 2005.

Carlson, who had attended the 200th Support Our Troops rally here, accepted the Walworth County American Legion posts' invitation to the 300th rally.

She presented a gold star coin to Donna Beckman of Elkhorn, mother of Justin Linden.

Carlson also gave a gold star coin to Justin's father and stepmother, Wayne and Laurie Linden of Clinton.

She gave a blue star coin to Robert Webster, one of the founders of the Support Our Troops rally, and who has hosted and led the rallies from the beginning, missing just one over the past six years.

Also receiving a coin with a blue star were Robert and Diane Voss of Walworth, who have a son serving in the military.

On the coin, above the gold star, is the inscription: "Fighting for those who fought for us."

Webster said the weekly rallies grew out of a meeting of the countywide American Legion Council six years ago.

"We older veterans acknowledged that we didn't do enough for those returning from Vietnam, and we resolved not to make that mistake with this group of young men and women," Webster said. "We wanted to get the message to the troops that they are not forgotten."

Unsure how the weekly rallies would be greeted by the public, the veterans agreed to a trial series of 10 of the weekly events. Suffering from health issues at the time,

Webster said 10 weeks was about as far off as he could see at the time. "Who'd a thunk it?" he said jokingly about reaching the 300th meeting.

Since that first rally Nov. 29, 2004, about 9,185 people have visited the rallies, Webster said, among them U.S. Rep. Paul Ryans, State Sen. Neal Kedzie and State Rep. Tom Lothian, who also turned up for Monday's meeting.

The Support Our Troops Committee depends on donations and fund raising events to carry out its projects. According to Webster, for the fourth year, the American Legion posts of Walworth County raffled two tickets to a Green Bay Packers game donated by Robert and Diane Voss of Walworth.

This year, the tickets were for the Nov. 7 Packers-Cowboys game at Lambeau Field.

This year, that raffle raised $7,265, the most ever, Webster said.

The winner was a man in Stockton, Calif., who then turned the tickets over to his daughter who lives in Walworth, Webster said.

Donations may also be made at a weekly rally or by mail to the Legion at P.O. Box 821, Elkhorn, 53121.

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