BELOIT - Patriotic music, loud fireworks, louder cheers and messages of love and support greeted the 220 veterans and Rosie the Riveters who returned Wednesday night to Beloit on the tenth annual VetsRoll trip.
Despite sporadic downpours throughout the night, hundreds of people still gathered around the Eclipse Center to welcome back veterans, Rosie the Riveters and volunteers.
Veteran Ray Dechant, of Marshall, Wisconsin, said the trip was perfect.
"There's no way they could make it better," Dechant said.
He served in the U.S. Navy from 1962-66, where he spent his years of service on an aircraft carrier.
This year marked the 1,965th Rosie the Riveter and veteran who served in World War II, Korea or Vietnam to participate in the all-expenses-paid trip allowing veterans to see national war memorials, Arlington National Cemetery and other sites from Sunday through Wednesday.
Dechant said his favorite part was seeing all of the memorials, especially the Vietnam Memorial.
"You walk down and see the 57,000 people that didn't make it home. It brings tears to your eyes," Dechant said. "It was great. It really was."
From supportive residents lining the streets to families waiting for their loved ones to return at the Eclipse Center, the veterans received a spectacular welcome. As the motorcoaches arrived just after 10 p.m., fireworks and applause commenced.
Army veteran Leonard Osmond, of Machesney Park, said his favorite part of the trip was getting to see the Lincoln Memorial where soldiers performed a color guard ceremony. Osmond served in the army from 1963-65.
In a ceremony inside the Eclipse Center following the arrival of the veterans and 170 members of the support staff, VetsRoll co-founder Mark Finnegan thanked all the supporters for sticking it out in the rain to see the veterans and Rosies return. He bragged that this was the first trip in 10 years where no veteran had to make an emergency room visit. He also thanked the local community and people from around the state and nation for helping support the four-day trip.
He encouraged the veterans who attended the trip to share their stories, especially with Memorial Day coming up on Monday.
"Get these stories from the vets who lived it in color," Finnegan said. "I don't want to read about it in a history book. I want to see it on video."
He thanked all of the support staff who took time off work to go on the trip, which also included high schoolers who volunteered their time.
On behalf of the City of Beloit, city council vice president Clinton Anderson thanked all of the veterans who served.
"Because of your sacrifice we are able to enjoy the rights and freedoms we have today," Anderson said.
For every VetsRoll trip, veterans who served in 1966 and earlier in active duty and were honorably discharged are eligible. Veterans can apply at any time.
For more information, go to vetsroll.org.