MARION -- Several hundred veterans gathered at the Marion Pavilion Saturday for the first reunion of Honor Flight participants.
Organized by the Honor Flight Board, the gathering gave vets from the first five Honor Flights the chance to reminisce about their experiences.
Sen. Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg) was on hand to present a donation from the proceeds of this year's S.I. Made Expo held last month at the Pavilion.
"We were able to present a check for $51,855.18," said Fowler.
Fowler said last year's donation was around $28,000.
"With the first two S.I. Made Expos, we can now confirm we've paid for one full flight," he said. "That's something to be proud of."
Fowler said the increased donation was a direct result of the hard work of the staff and volunteers in making the second Expo an even bigger success.
"This year, our attendance was over 3,500," said Fowler.
He said there were also an additional 35 booths, as well as an increase in the number of sponsors.
"We got so much great exposure from the first year," said Fowler. "I think that helped our numbers this year."
Fowler stressed that the sponsors and volunteers are responsible for the success of the event.
"We have an incredible staff," he said. "This year, we had Black Diamond (Harley-Davidson) donate the camper that we raffled."
The event also had 30 sponsors, something Fowler said he hopes to increase next year.
"I don't think we can squeeze another booth into the space," he said. "It's just incredible the number of products we have right here in southern Illinois."
Anyone looking for information on the Expo can find it online at www.simade.org.
Fowler is looking forward to next year. "Quite honestly, I would take these numbers each and every year," he said.
He said that organizers hope to the make the reunion an annual event.