It was the 49th year for the annual Patriotic Ceremony "Let Freedom Ring" hosted on Kaskaskia Island on the 4th of July. Organizers had a full slate of speakers and activities this year as the weather man had a very hot, humid and sunny day awaiting the hundreds of guests to the Island.
Many visitors arrived early to visit the home of the Liberty Bell of the West which was cast in 1741. Also celebrating this year was the Immaculate Conception Church of St. Mary 1675-2018 which is housed on historic Kaskaskia Island. The church has been a landmark in Randolph County for 351 years.
The program began with the Presentation of the Colors by V.F.W. Post 3553 and the American Legion Post 487 of Chester. The Chester Boys Scouts assisted with the presentation after which they led those in attendance in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Guest Vocalist for 2018 was Melody Colonel, Chester High School sophomore, the daughter of Steve and Sue Colonel, Chester High School and Grade School band directors. Melody led the contingent in the singing of the National Anthem, accompanied by the Chester Municipal Band.
Don Welge, Master of Ceremonies, provided Opening Remarks to the gathering after which IDNR Site Service Specialist 1 Todd Hamilton briefly welcomed visitors to Kaskaskia Island. Emily Lyons, former resident of Kaskaskia Island, then gave her traditional "Kaskaskia Welcome" to the gathering. Lyons represented the Liberty Bell of the West Chapter NSDAR.
Ed Fisher of Chester then took center stage as he portrayed Shadrach Bond, the first governor of Illinois. Bond traveled west from Maryland to Kaskaskia in the early 1800's to farm and is buried in Chester's Evergreen Cemetery.
The audience was then invited to sing along as the Chester Municipal Band played, "Illinois", the official theme song for the State of Illinois.
Following the group sing, there was a Cameo appearance from former St. Louis Cardinal Football Player Jackie Smith. Smith is a Hall of Famer who now represents the Missouri National Veteran's Memorial. Smith spoke about the memorial , which he states will be one of the best memorials in the nation.
Welge recognized the two commanders of the Chester veteran's groups assisting with the celebration on the Island. Tony Payne is the Commander of the Chester V.F.W. Post 3553 and Ben Picou, a former resident of Kaskaskia Island, is the new Commander of the American Legion Post 487 in Chester. Both men were thanked for their participation in the 2018 Let Freedom Ring Ceremony.
All veterans in attendance were then honored and asked to stand as the Chester Municipal Band performed, "Armed Forces Medley." The song features the theme songs of each of the branches of the United States Armed Forces.
Brief remarks were then made by the Mayor of Perryville and a representative of Mayor Tom Page of Chester. Ken Baer, Mayor of Perryville, was on hand to welcome everyone to the ceremony on behalf of the City of Perryville while Tom Page, Chester Mayor, was represented by Chester Alderman, Mike Blechle.
Glenn Poshard was the official Guest Speaker or the celebration. Poshard, a former Illinois senator, U.S. congressman, Illinois gubernatorial candidate and SIU president, gave a presentation covering a wide variety of historical events related to Independence Day.
Poshard immediately connected with the crowd and relayed his 4th of July message.
The "Battle Hymn of the Republic" followed Poshard's presentation sung by Melody Colonel who was accompanied by the Chester Municipal Band, led by Steve Colonel.
The Chester V.F.W. and American Legion Firing Squad provided a 21-gun salute, after which Brian Roth, a former Chester resident, played "Taps" honoring those who died keeping our great country free and safe during the past 200 years.
The Sulser Family, originally from Kaskaskia Island, served as the honorary bell ringers for the 2018 celebration and rang the bells in the Immaculate Conception Church on Kaskaskia. The traditional ringing let everyone know that "Freedom" is alive for the American people.
The French Marines, led by Commander Don Martin of the French Marines de Fort de Chartres, followed with a "Let Freedom Ring" salute with the firing of their muskets to celebrate freedom in America.