N EARLY 250 military veterans, active-duty personnel and their families took part in the second Heroes at Heartland event last month at Heartland Lodge near Nebo, a one-day outing of fun outdoor activities designed primarily to show appreciation for those who have served or continue to serve our country.
That turnout represented a nearly 40 percent increase from the inaugural event in 2017, which in itself far exceeded expectations, and organizers firmly believe it will continue to grow as word spreads to more veterans living in a 36-county area in West-Central Illinois, Northeast Missouri and Southeast Iowa.
That alone is worthy of recognition, and sponsors and volunteers responsible for its success are to be commended for their commitment to veterans.
Just as important, one of the primary purposes of Heroes at Heartland is to provide much-needed assistance to veterans the year-around in many ways.
And that, too, has been a resounding success.
One such way is that organizers have used proceeds from Heroes at Heartland to donate more than $12,000 the past two years to two local organizations that serve veterans -- the Great River Honor Flight and the Tri-State Warrior Outreach.
The Honor Flight Network traces its roots to 2005 in Ohio and has grown rapidly, with chapters across the country. The local chapter, the Great River Honor Flight, was been in existence for nearly a decade, and generous community support has enabled 1,608 local World War II, Korean War and Vietnam era veterans to travel at no cost to Washington, D.C., to visit their respective war memorials.
In fact, its next flight on Sept. 29 will be the chapter's 50th, a notable milestone.
Meanwhile, the Tri-State Warrior Outreach program was launched in January 2012 and is similar to the nationwide Wounded Warrior Project, a veterans organization that offers a variety of programs, services and events for wounded veterans of U.S. military actions.
One major difference, however, is that the money raised by the Tri-State Warrior Outreach program remains local to address specific needs within the West-Central Illinois, Northeast Missouri and Southeast Iowa region.
Specifically, the Tri-State Warrior Outreach program assists fellow veterans whose needs can be wide-ranging -- from assistance finding proper counseling or medical treatment to help in repairing a roof. The United Way of Adams County handles all donations and provides record-keeping for the nonprofit organization.
Moreover, Heroes at Heartland serves a secondary purpose of helping to compile a database of contact information of veterans living in the tri-state region so information on job opportunities, future events and other benefits for veterans can be shared.
The database, called "We Salute You" and developed by The Herald-Whig and WGEM, already contains information of more than 100 veterans and is continually being updated. Military personnel or family members can register at wesaluteyou.us.
And we salute those who continue to take the time to thank a veteran.