Dear Family and Friends,

We’d like to share with you the whirlwind of an experience we’ve had over the past few days.  I can be a little long winded, so bear with me and know that our only hope is for you too to have this experience through our eyes and ears.

A couple of days ago, the girls and I were having a lemonade stand on a very hot humid day.  We watched a group of neighbors putting small American flags at all the mailboxes and intersections in the neighborhood.  We were curious as to the reason behind them and the girls went to ask.  When they came back, our 10 yr old said the teenagers had said that a young man from our neighborhood had been killed in Afghanistan on Saturday.  Right away she had deep concern in her eyes and voice when she said, “What if it was our friend Peter [from CYT]?”  I told her that I was sure it wasn’t as we would have known by now and I encouraged them to go ask for this young man’s name.  Joey Dimock, 21 yr old Army Ranger, 2007 grad of Warren high who lived two blocks away.  Thus our journey started…

Early yesterday morning, as we rode thru our neighborhood on our way to the Waukegan airport to participate in the Patriot Guard escort for Joey, we were a little saddened to see many of those flags discarded and out of sight.  Just as many had also still been displayed on mailboxes and porches but perhaps those homes that discarded them did not know the meaning to why they were placed there.  We don’t read the newspapers or watch much TV news, so we are very thankful for the young curious minds we have in this household.

During our travel to the airport, I received a text message from my dear sweet sister simply stating, “Good and wonderful morning, rejoice in the Lord always, let HIS JOY BE your strength, be blessed TODAY.”  As always her timing was right on, what great words to hear at that time as we gathered with other Patriot Guard members to form the flagline to encompass Joey’s family at his returning.  It was truly a wonderful heartwarming experience to see the outpouring of support from everyone, right down to an Eagle Scout there with his dad and a young developmentally disabled boy whose flag became tangled in the barbed wire lining the airport fence and an Army Ranger came to assist him in freeing it.

I don’t know what number mission this was for us as we have done many but this was our first experience at the airport.  Through the sound of roaring thunder [that’s motorcycle talk] along with the noise of the flags freely flapping in the hot wind and the swishing of the fire engines water canyons as they arced over the airplane upon taxiing to the deafening sound of the plane’s engine coming up to the hanger bay doors, I could hear golden silence and then the sweet sound of Our Father saying, “Welcome Home Joey, Bravo Zulu, Welcome Home.”  What a powerful sound to wash out all the rest.  At that moment, I prayed everyone else in the hanger could hear what I was hearing as I had tears of HIS JOY on my face.

I had the honor of being up close and personal so to speak as I was stationed right behind the honor guard with their weapons and had full view of the plane’s doors opening and the presentation of the casket.  One word…… there just isn’t one to describe it.  I also had the privilege of being close enough to hear Joey’s mama ask the young Ranger Chaplin next to her, “Is My Joey really here?  Are you sure that’s My Joey?”  This young officer held her hands, looked her straight into her eyes and said, “Yes, madam, I have been with Joey for this entire time.”  The shear relief and grief on her face and heart was too much for me and I felt a little quilty for being a part of that moment with her.  Joey’s dad painstaking walked all the way around his casket touching, caressing, and taking it all in as if to be nearer to him.  As he paused at Joey’s dog tags secured at the end of the casket, again I was feeling waves of quilt for intruding as tears flowed down my face.  I made no eye contact and I stood my position honorably. Although, at the same time, I was filled with pride and honor to be in that presence.  I know it wasn’t about me and I hope you don’t get the sense that I’m saying it was.  I’m just trying to put you there with us, with Joey, and his family.

Shortly thereafter, we mounted up and formed the motorcade with motorcycles leading the way as is what the Patriot Guard does.  As we headed south out of the airport passing familiar street names to the community we lived in some 25 yrs ago, the outpouring of support was evident.  Great Lakes Naval Base is down the road a piece and it was obvious this community was honoring one of their own.  Small groups of people were holding flags and paying their respect.  Cars going the opposite direction had pulled over and had their hazards flashing.  These people where there for quite some time as it was a long procession.  We encountered this all the way through Waukegan.  It was heartwarming to say the least.

But when we were heading westbound on Illinois Rt. 120 leading into our town, what we encountered was beyond all expectations.  Being as I am on the back of Jim’s bike, I don’t get to always see what he sees.  When we passed a major cross street, I hear him say, “Oh, my goodness!”  I lean over his right shoulder and witness what he does.  One of the local area fire departments had a huge crane at the side of the road extending out over the road, the largest American flag we have ever seen!!  Talk about your heart welling up.  And as we passed by, there were a handful of firefighters standing at attention, saluting.  As we got closer to Wildwood the images were even more powerful.  Neighboring law enforcements and Boy Scout troops lined the road.  This is a major east-west, two-lane divided highway and traffic is stopping and pulling over in the eastbound lanes.  Entry ramps to the westbound lanes were stopped, some people getting out of their cars, others taking pictures with their cell phones.  Flags flying.  One person here, two or three there.  One flag, no flag, saluting, or their hands over their hearts.  Breathtaking! 

As one community passed on to the next it was evident in the law enforcement and fire departments.  We approached Hunt Club Rd. and the Gurnee fire engine was stretched across blocking traffic with their personnel at attention.  Now we have entered our neighborhood and I can tell you, we were not prepared for what we saw.  Boy Scouts were out in full force [if you haven’t guessed, Joey was an Eagle Scout], as were Veterans.  Then we slowed a little and came fully into Wildwood.  The show of support was overwhelming, absolutely overflowing!  It appeared as if the entire subdivision was out on 120.  No cars, just hundreds of neighbors, friends, strangers, church memebers to show honor and pay respect for this young man.  What powerful sights.  A young tender scout, saluting with fresh tears rolling down his face.  Parents holding their children so they could have a clearer view.  The signs saying, “Welcome Home Joey!”, “Gone but not forgotten!”, “We love you Joey!”, “Rangers lead the way.”, and solemnly “THANK YOU!” An older vet stabilizing himself next to his wheelchair as he stood at attention.  Another relying on the assistance of his crutch for support as he stood on one leg.  The flags were everywhere!  Just overwhelming!  All the way down to seeing our mail carrier, Bob, no doubt who has delivered countless letters, birthday and report cards to Joey and his family, interrupting his route to pay tribute to this young man.

We continued on towards the funeral home and the view was the same.  So many in the community and surrounding communities coming out to show their thanks and gratitude.  As we pulled into the parking lot and travelled around the back of the building to dismount in the furthermost corner, again the fire departments and law enforcements were in strong presence.  We dismounted and hurried over to the truck to pick up a flag and get into formation, many of the bikers were commenting on how heartwarming that was and how hard it was to stay focused on driving when their emotions were getting in the way.  That sentiment was echoed repeatedly.  We took our positions and preformed our duties for our final task of the day, “Guard, stand down.”

Shortly thereafter, I went to say hello to the pastors [husband and wife team] of Joey’s church as I know them.  Pastor Kathy hugged me and thanked me for being there and she stated she and her husband, Greg, were overwhelmed with what had just transpired.  She then introduced me to Joey’s mom and as she was telling her my name, Ellen Dimock grabbed my hands into hers and said, “You’re my neighbor.  You live on the corner and you don’t have your flag [blue star service member’s flag] in your front window anymore.”  I said, ‘Yes, madam, I am one of your neighbors.  Our son got out of the service a handful of years ago.’  And as I drew her to me and embraced her tightly, I said, ‘I am so truly sorry that you now have a gold star flag forever in yours.’  We wept briefly and then tenderly laughed and cried a few minutes as we told stories about our boys as only military moms can.

By the time many of you are reading this, Joey’s wake and funeral will be over and we will have participated till the end.  But we are asking you to please continue to pray for his family, Joe Sr., Ellen, Louis and Michael.  As many of us know they have a long road ahead of them.  We have one more thing to share.  We’ve been asked if we knew Joey and his family personally before now.  Our answer is no, but we are neighbors just the same and we watched Joey and his brothers unknowingly grow up and play among these streets.  So as neighbors, did we know Joey?  Yes, you bet we did and every other solider that’s gone before him.  As neighbors, no matter where you are, we all knew him.  Also as his neighbors, we pray you will all come to meet him face to face when your time comes and shake his hand [and countless others] and say, “Thank you, Neighbor!”

Thank you so much for sticking it out and reading this whole journey with us.  We trust you feel as though you were there experiencing the sights, sounds and emotions right along with us.  In the event that this hasn't, we highly recommend seeing the movie "Taking Chance" if you haven't already.  Sit down with your children and watch this powerful movie.  Thank you for being our neighbors and friends.

God Bless,

Colleen and Jim