Mark and John Finnegan had always admired their dad, Cy’s, service to his country in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
They also recognized the contributions of the men and women from what some have called “The Greatest Generation” of Americans.
Last year, the two men decided the stories of these selfless individuals needed to be shared with the world. They launched the “Let’s Roll, VetsRoll” program which was designed to allow WWII and Korean veterans to see the important war memorials dedicated to them located in Washington, D.C.
In May of 2009, 128 veterans traveled to Washington by bus and RV courtesy of many “generous donations” and the efforts of the Finnegan brothers.
On Tuesday night, the brothers were honored for their efforts in making Beloit and the Stateline Area a better place to live. The Beloit Daily News presented the brothers with the Laurence A. Raymer Headliner Award at the annual Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce 84th annual dinner.
“We don’t do anything for attention so this is quite humbling,” Mark Finnegan said, in accepting the award from Bill Barth, editor of the Beloit Daily News.
Mark’s brother, John, gave Mark all the credit for the venture. However, Mark acknowledged the plan would not have worked if John did not pick up the slack at the family business while Mark was fundraising and gathering a list of veterans for the trip.
“You can’t relate to the stories that are underneath those hats,” Mark said, as he described the many unique experiences each veteran has to share, his voice trailing off as his emotions got the best of him.
“When the veterans first got on board the buses, it was really quiet,” John Finnegan said after the award ceremony. “But it didn’t take long for everyone to open up and share their stories. It has really been incredible.”
With memories of flag-waving Americans on “every overpass” and a state police escort that spanned three states still fresh in their heads, the brothers are planning a return trip to Washington in May. They have already signed up 180 veterans and hope to take 200 or so via chartered buses.
The trip is planned for May16-19 and the Finnegans are seeking help from the community to make another VetsRoll trip a reality. Anyone interested in obtaining more information can log onto VetsRoll.org.
The Headliner Award was the icing on the cake Tuesday for the Finnegans, who also received an out-of-state anonymous donation of $5,000 to help make the trip possible.
“There are unfortunately millions of stories that have gone with the veterans to their graves,” said Mark Finnegan, who has produced a DVD about the veterans’ experience he shares with area schoolchildren. “This gives them a chance to tell their stories. They are like a brotherhood, a fraternity. They need to know they are appreciated and they need to be remembered.”