BELOIT - Those who want to see the caravan of veterans heading off to Washington, D.C. with the 9th Annual VetsRoll project will have to get up early Sunday.
The motor coaches filled with veterans and Rosie the Riveters are scheduled to leave the Eclipse Center parking lot at 5:14 a.m. Sunday, said VetsRoll co-founder Mark Finnegan. The motor coaches, escorted by 10 motorcyclists from the Fire and Iron Station 53 Motorcycle Club, will head down Riverside Drive and turn onto Broad Street. From there, the caravan will turn onto Gardner Street and then get onto Interstate 39/90.
Finnegan said the Beloit Fire Department will provide a water arch that the motor coaches will drive under near Riverside Park.
There also will be 13 Illinois State Troopers who will escort the group through the state of Illinois.
This year, 220 veterans of World War II, the Korean War and some Vietnam War veterans will be going on the four-day trip. After making some stops along the way and viewing the war memorials in Washington, D.C., the group will return to Beloit on the evening of May 23. There will be a total of 400 people on the trip, including motor coach drivers and support staff.
Finnegan said with this trip, 1,750 veterans will have gone with VetsRoll to Washington, D.C. Next year will mark the 10th year for the VetsRoll trip and it will bring the total of veterans going on the trip over 10 years to 2,000.
The VetsRoll Board of Directors recently voted to allow veterans who served in the military prior to 1966 to go on the trip in 2019. Currently, veterans who served prior to 1963 qualify for the trip, which is provided free of expense for veterans.
Mark Finnegan and his brother, John Finnegan, decided to start the VetsRoll trip during a discussion they had on Feb. 1, 2010. They publicly announced their plan on March 17 of that year and went about raising funds to pay for the trip.
When asked if he ever thought the VetsRoll event would last nine years, Mark Finnegan said no, but he gave all the credit to the people and the businesses who have donated funds over the years.
"We didn't even think we would do it the second year," Finnegan said. "This has grown so much over the years."