BELOIT - The magic is in the closure.
That's how VetsRoll founder Mark Finnegan described the upcoming Ninth Annual VetsRoll trip to Washington, D.C.
VetsRoll will provide an all expense paid trip allowing veterans to see national war memorials, Arlington National Cemetery and other sites on May 20-23.
This year's trip marks the 1,750th veteran and "Rosie the Riveter" to have participated. Veterans from 16 states will be descending upon Beloit to take the trip. The group includes 20 World War II veterans and Rosies, 100 Korean War veterans as well as veterans in conflicts up through the Vietnam War.
"It gives veterans closure in their senior years. A lot of them probably don't realize they need it until they get together. They are strangers on Sunday morning, and by Monday night, they find out they are brothers," Finnegan said. "They share that common military thread."
A caravan of 11 coaches and a support van will be escorting the total of 220 vets and Rosies on the trip. In addition, a group of motorcycle escorts from Fire and Iron Station 53 motorcycle club out of northern Illinois will be traveling with the caravan to D.C. The convoy will include 175 support people for a total of 400 travelers.
The trip will kick off on May 20 when veterans leave the Eclipse Center. Twelve Illinois state troopers will be escorting the convoy from Beloit to Indiana.
Day one will kick off with the crew going to the Dayton, Ohio Wright-Patterson Air Force base, and then staying overnight in Dayton. On the second day, the caravan will travel out across eastern Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland to Chantilly, Virginia, where they will stay overnight Monday and Tuesday. On Tuesday, the group will tour memorials in Washington as well as visit Arlington National Cemetery. On Wednesday, they will leave Chantilly and come back to Beloit, receiving police and motorcycle salutes along the way.
Finnegan said people stand on bridges saluting veterans on their return ride home. In recent years, every bridge from Belvidere to Beloit is usually filled. The Illinois State Patrol escorts riders from the Indiana border through Chicago and then controls traffic as the convoy enters South Beloit. With good weather, there could be several hundred motorcycles escorting the veterans into Beloit as well.
VetsRoll, Finnegan said, is going stronger than ever thanks in part to fundraising efforts. He said the Wisconsin Tavern League is conducting fundraisers as well as local businesses such as Boxcars in Clinton, the Shopiere Tap, Orfordville's American Legion, Rascals in Rockford and Lone Rock West of Madison. Finnegan attributes the support to people being able to see what VetsRoll does for veterans.
"It's because people see the results when we roll into Beloit. They see where their money is going. Everyone is a volunteer. There is no paid staff and no tax dollars being used for it. It's all private donations that support it," he said.