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    Posted June 16, 2014 by

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    Freedom Fest- Honoring Fallen Heroes, Veterans, and Family


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     mediaman got to meet actor Gary Sinise this weekend at Freedom Fest, an outdoor music festival and celebration of U.S. veterans and active duty military members. When mediaman asked the actor what goes through his mind while he’s performing at veterans causes, Sinise said, “I came to this event to make sure our veterans know that they are appreciated. We are grateful for what they do.”

    On a personal note, mediaman was proud to be there to honor his father. “My father is a WWII veteran and his name is on a plaque inside the Hall of Honor which is located inside the stadium,” where the event was held.
    - zdan, CNN iReport producer

    For one day and evening, over the past six years, thousands have gathered from across the United States to give tribute and thanks to those who have served in the U.S. military.The event,  called Freedom Fest was created by Don Weber, founder and CEO of Logistics Health Inc. Weber served as a Marine in Vietnam, and received two bronze stars and the Purple Heart. As Weber tells each Freedom Fest audience, the event raises funds for Veterans causes, scholarships, and provides the opportunity to remind people of the sacrifice military personnel have given to the country “to protect our freedom.”


    The day-long event includes a 100 mile motorcycle rally, veteran celebrations and honors, and past appearances by Chicago, America, and REO Speedwagon. This, the seventh year of the event featured the Lt. Dan Band, led by Gary Sinise from TV series CSI-New York, and actor in noteworthy films including Forest Gump and Apollo 13. Sinise travels worldwide, visiting military bases with the USO, and is the founder of the Gary Sinise Foundation, which provides charitable efforts supporting U.S. veterans. The Foundation web site states, “While we can never do enough to show gratitude to our nation's defenders, we can always do a little more.”


    A passionate spokesperson for veteran community efforts, he is a frequent supporter and performer at Freedom Fest. When asked why he comes to Freedom Fest Sinise says, “I am here just in gratitude. To make sure (veterans) know pure and simple what they do for us is appreciated and not taken for granted. I never for a second take for granted where freedom comes from.”


    The day begins at Freedom Fest with a 100-mile motorcycle rally through western Wisconsin. Bike riders from all over the Midwest come here to La Crosse, Wisconsin to celebrate veterans and connect with one another. Greg and Rita Smith traveled from St. Paul, MN to join other veterans and made a new friend from Fountain City, WI sporting a Victory Motorcycle t-shirt. It seemed to coincide with the theme of the day- Victory.


    Tom and Linda Skinner, fresh from a veteran’s motorcycle rally in Washington, DC came to La Crosse to see Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band. The couple said coming here was a good way to remember veterans and to keep them in our memories. A U.S. Marine veteran from Vietnam, Tom stood outside the stadium with his head held high with pride- he had served his country well.


    Just outside the stadium walls, aptly named Veterans Memorial Field Complex on the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse campus, a group of young students from a local elementary school drew a large chalk drawing to commemorate veterans arriving for the event.


    Inside, thousands filled the stands to hear emotional tributes to veterans and their families. As the performances died down into the evening, the mood changed during a moving tribute entitled “Wisconsin’s Fallen Heroes.” A program played to the large crowd on several large video screens. In the deeply moving piece, 175 Wisconsin military personnel were individually featured who had died while serving the country. As the names flowed together on the screens one-by-one with dramatic music, the real story was seen on the illuminated faces in the stands. The emotions from the sea of people throughout the stadium were both captivating and memorable. The crowd was silent and intently focused on each and every name. It was as though they were watching and grieving as a family.


    As Freedom Fest concluded this year in a pouring rain, you could still feel the pride, emotion and heavy hearts of the veterans and families as they shuffled orderly to the exits. For those who had never witnessed Freedom Fest, it was an entertaining and emotional experience. For those who had been here before, you could sense they would return again next year to experience it all over again. It was a trek they keep on making, to keep the memories alive.


    Gary Sinise summed up the experience saying, “I came to this event to make sure our veterans know that they are appreciated. We are grateful for what they do.” Perhaps these words are for each of us to remember, and perhaps convincing us to one day make our own journey to experience Freedom Fest, for our veterans and our families.

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