MARSEILLES, ILLINOIS — The rapid advance of Islamist militants through key cities in Iraq is forcing many Americans to re-examine the eight-year-long war that killed nearly 4,500 U.S. service members. The loss of lives is on the minds of many who took part in the 2014 Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run.
This is more than just a motorcycle to Kory Thompson. It is a moving tribute to his son, Army Corporal Michael Thompson, who died in a helicopter crash near Talil Air Base in Iraq in 2008.
“Their call sign was Red River 44. When Red River 44 banked to go into Talil, they lost altitude, and the guys from the other helicopter say it look like they flew right into the ground,” he said.
It was Thompson’s second time in Iraq, a mission his father said he enthusiastically volunteered for, based on his experience during his first deployment.
“Michael’s proudest moment he told me was when he was guarding a polling site during the Iraq elections, and he says his proudest moment was seeing those Iraqis walking around with that blue ink on their finger. He said that was his proudest moment so.....,” said the father.
The deteriorating situation in Iraq is on the minds of many at the 2014 Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run.
The rolling tribute to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice ends at the MidEast Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles, Illinois. There, in a solemn ceremony, the newest names of the fallen carved into the black marble blocks and are read by family members.
“It’s to let everybody know that our troops overseas are not forgotten, and the ones that have fallen are never going to be forgotten,” said organizer Raymond Prokaski, president of Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run.
Prokaski disagreed with President Obama’s decision not to send more combat troops back to Iraq.
“I don’t think it’s a smart thing to say if we’re going to try to get them back on their feet again. We see what’s going on over there. And they’re already sending troops over there. So it was a wrong statement for him to make,” he said.
“I think advisors and special ops is not what he is considering ground troops. I think its important to do this and I think airstrikes is going to be important on top of it,” said Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger, an Air Force pilot and veteran of several Iraq combat deployments.
He believed airstrikes and drone attacks would help reverse recent gains made by militants.
“We have to push this very evil group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) back and I think that’s going to be very important to honor the sacrifice of those who made it,” said Kinzinger.
“The best option to me? Pull everybody out, and let them kill each other - they’ve been killing each other for millions of years, nobody’s going to stop it, we’re not going to stop it,” said the father of Army Corporal Michael Thompson .
Thompson said if his son Michael, who died fighting in Iraq, were watching the militants advancing today, he would be profoundly disappointed, but he would not have regrets.
He said, “I’ve heard Gold Star fathers say ‘Our sons died for nothing’ and I tell them ‘My son didn’t die for nothing. He believed in what he was doing.'”
It is a belief that ultimately cost his son his life, a sacrifice Kory Thompson wishes Iraqis would honor by protecting their own freedom.