Large crowd braves heat to attend 54th Annual Patriotic Ceremony

Kaskaskia Island is gracious host to 4th of July “Let Freedom Ring” event


By Jim Beers

​CHESTER – The week leading up to the 4th of July was filled with warnings of extreme heat, humidity, rain, potential storms, high water and lots of uncertainty regarding the 2024 Patriotic Ceremony that has been hosted on Kaskaskia Island for decades.


​This year marked the 54th year for the event and the “Let Freedom Ring” committee was determined to host the event regardless of the typical potential roadblocks presented by Mother Nature.


​As late as the night prior to the event, organizers were prepared to move the event inside the Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception if necessary. Fortunately for everyone involved, the rain stopped, skies cleared, and the event was able to be held outside as usual for the 2024 event.


​Guests and participants began to arrive on Kaskaskia Island at approximately 11 a.m. At that time skies were mostly clear and the bright sun quickly heated up the environment.


At the same time, Chester Boy Scouts set up chairs, event staff organized the tent which served as the shaded stage from which the program was presented, and the members of the Chester Municipal Band unloaded instruments, set up the public address system (PA), and prepared for the traditional pre-ceremony concert of patriotic selections.


Early arrivals enjoyed concessions of delicious pulled pork sandwiches, a variety of chips, pulled pork nachos, baked goods, ice cold beverages, and other treats served up with “good ole” warm and friendly Island hospitality.


Kaskaskia Island native, Emily Lyons, a well-known Randolph County Historian, was on hand with plenty of pamphlets and pictorial handouts. As usual, Lyons was dressed in traditional garb of the era as she served as a gracious host to the large crowd in attendance.


The event officially began at 12:30 p.m. with a 30-minute concert of patriotic songs performed by the Chester Municipal Band. The band is directed by Steve Colonel. The “Muni Band” has been a backbone of the event for decades and always makes the trip to Kaskaskia Island on an otherwise very busy day to provide beautiful patriotic music on an annual basis.


At 1:00 p.m., the band opened the formal portion of the event with the playing of the song, “Illinois”, the official theme song for the State of Illinois. Immediately following the conclusion of that performance, the Presentation of Colors was carried out by a combined Color Guard of V.F.W. and American Legion members assisted by the Boy Scouts of Chester.


At the completion of the Presentation of Colors, the Chester Boy Scouts led the audience in the “Pledge of Allegiance” to the Flag of the United States of America, after which the Chester Municipal Band played the National Anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner”. Guest Vocalist for the day was Melody Colonel, who led the large crowd in singing the anthem.

Reverend Leo Hayes, Chaplin of the Kaskaskia Immaculate Conception Church, gave a fitting “Invocation” with historical and patriotic flavor.


“Master of Ceremonies” for the day was Attorney Nate Brown, whose mother, the late Dr. Barb Brown, was instrumental in helping to organizing the early years of the Annual Patriotic Ceremony on Kaskaskia Island. Nate introduced the next song to be played by the Municipal Band of Chester titled, “Ashokan Farewell”. This tune has become a traditional favorite at the event over the past several years.


Tom Welge, whose father, the late Don Welge, provided the official “Welcome” to the 54th Annual Patriotic Ceremony and gave a brief, but very warm introduction to the large crowd in attendance.

Shane Wagner, Park Ranger at the Fort Kaskaskia State Historical Site, followed with a warm and very informative Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) “Welcome” which provided a detailed update regarding recent happenings at the Fort as well as the historical Pierre Menard Home.


Local Randolph County Historian and former resident of Kaskaskia Island, Emily Lyons, provided her traditional “Kaskaskia Island Welcome” and updated the crowd regarding recent happenings on the Island since the last Patriotic “Let Freedom Ring” Ceremony on July 4, 2023.


V.F.W. Post 3553 and American Legion Post 487 in Chester have been key supporters of the event since its inception 54 years ago. Nate Brown, Master of Ceremonies, took time to recognize and praise the efforts of both organizations in helping to foster the success of the event over the years.


Brown thanked Commander Bryan Childs of V.F.W. Post 3553 and Commander Randy Werner of American Post 487 for their dedication and support over the years.


The Chester Municipal Band then played, “Armed Forces Salute” which features the official theme songs of each branch of the United States Armed Forces. As the song for each respective branch was played, including Coast Guard, Army, Marines, Air Force, and Navy, active members and veterans of these branches were asked to stand and be recognized.


It was noted by Steve Colonel, Muni Band Director, that currently, composers are working on writing the theme song for the newest branch of the United States Armed Forces, the “Space Force”, and that as soon as that music is available, the band will add it to the repertoire of official armed forces theme songs.


Next on the program were remarks from the City of Perryville and City of Chester. Perryville was represented by Mayor Larry Riney and Chester was represented by Alderman J.D. Maes on behalf of Mayor Tom Page who was unable to attend. Both welcomed everyone to the Annual Patriotic Ceremony and both had patriotic comments to add to the program.


A combined Firing Squad of both V.F.W. and American Legion members then conducted a 21-Gun Salute which was followed by playing of “TAPS” by Chester Municipal Band members Brock Stinson and Mitchell Colonel, who performed the echoing version of TAPS.


To close out the tribute to fallen servicemen and women, Melody Colonel sang, “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, accompanied by the Chester Municipal Band.


Guest Speaker for the event was former Chester student and resident, Matt Meacham. Meacham is the Program Manager for Statewide Engagement Illinois Humanities. The title of his presentation was, “To Beautify One Country Where There is Freedom.”


Meacham is a former Chester High School student. His professional experience includes journalism, teaching, music, folklore, and employment at several cultural institutions in the Midwest and South. His talk at the event was as an individual presenter, not associated with any particular institution or organization.


Immediately after Meacham’s presentation members of the Florence & Andrew McDonald Family conducted the traditional “Bells Ring for Liberty” ceremony at which time numerous family members served as “Honorary Bell Ringers” at the Kaskaskia Immaculate Conception Church.


To close out the ceremony, the French Marines, Les Companie Franche de La Marine, de Fort Charters conducted the traditional and well-liked “Let Freedom Ring” tribute by firing their muskets.


The impressive re-enactment is directed and managed by Commander Don Martin, French Marines de Fort Chartres and Captain Bill McKnight, Milice de Sainte Genevieve.


A final musical selection, “God Bless America”, was performed by Melody Colonel who was accompanied by the Chester Municipal Band, directed by Steve Colonel. Everyone was asked to stand and join in singing the patriotic selection.


Reverend Leo Hayes provided a fitting patriotic Benediction after which the V.F.W., American Legion, and Boy Scout Color Guards “Retired the Colors”.



Master of Ceremonies for the 54th Annual Patriotic Ceremony held on Kaskaskia Island was local Attorney, Nate Brown. Brown is the son of the late Dr. Barb Brown, who was a member of the original committee that organized the first celebration 54 years ago. Jim Beers Photo



Shane Wagner, Park Ranger at the Fort Kaskaskia State Historical Site gave a nice and warm welcome from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). Wagner privided an update of happenings and improvements at both the Fort and at the Pierre Menard Home site. Jim Beers Photo



Matt Meacham, a former Chester High School student and Randolph County resident was the guest speaker at the 2024 4th of July Patriotic Ceremony on Kaskaskia Island. Meacham is Program Manager for for Sitewide Engagement Illinois Humanities. Jim Beers Photo



Chester Alderman J.D. Maes presents remarks at the Kaskaskia Island Patriotic Ceremony July 4th. Maes represented the City of Chester in the absence of Mayor Tom Page who was unable to attend. Jim Beers Photo


Perryville Mayor, Larry Riney, speaks to the crowd at the 2024 Kaskaskia Island Patriotic Ceremony Thursday July 4th. Riney represented the City of Perryville and provided brief Independence Day remarks to the large crowd in attendance. Jim Beers Photo



Emily Lyons, Randolph County Historian and former resident of Kaskaskia Island, addressed those in attendance July 4th at the 54th Annual “Let Freedom Ring” Patriotic Ceremony on the Island. Lyons gave a warm “Kaskaskia Welcome” and updated everyone regarding various happenings on the Island since the last celebration on July 4th, 2023. Jim Beers Photo



The Chester Municipal Band, under the direction of Steve Colonel, performed at the 2024 Kaskaskia Island 4th of July Patriotic Ceremony. The band is a crowd favorite each year as it has for the entire 54 years of the celebration. They played a 30-minute pre-ceremony of patriotic tunes at 12:30 p.m., and performed the following six songs including, the State of Illinois theme song, “Illinois”; the National Anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner”; “Ashokan Farewell”; “Armed Forces Medley”, “Battle Hymn of the Republic”; and “God Bless America” during the program. Guest vocalist was Melody Colonel. Jim Beers Photo



The French Marines, de Fort de Chartres fired their muskets during their annual tribute, “Let Freedom Ring” at the Annual Patriotic Ceremony hosted at Kaskaskia Island, The Re-Enactment group is led by Don Martin, Commander, and Captain Bill McKnight Milice de Sainte Genevieve. Jim Beers Photo 



Brock Stinson (left) and Mitchel Colonel (right) play “TAPS” to close out the 21-Gun Salute by the V.F.W. and American Legion Firing Squad. The annual gesture is in memory of fallen military men and women. Stinson is from Sparta and is a Music Major at Eastern Illinois University, and Colonel, a former Chester High School Graduate and accomplished YellowJacket Music Student, is a graduate from the University of Illinois at Springfield. He is an accountant in Springfield, Illinois. Both are also Chester Municipal Band trumpet players. Jim Beers Photo 



Shown is the combined Firing Squad of the V.F.W, Post 3553 in Chester and the American Legion Post 487 in Chester. The unit conducted the 21-Gun Salute to fallen American men and women military. Jim Beers Photo 


A large crowd of guests lined the sidewalks and grassy areas of Kaskaskia Island Thursday July 4th at the 54th Annual Patriotic Ceremony. Jim Beers Photo 



The American Legion Post 487, V.F.W. Post 3553, and Boy Scouts of Chester present the Colors to kick off the 2024 Patriotic Ceremony on Kaskaskia Island Thursday July 4th. The Boy Scouts then led the crowd in the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance. Jim Beers Photo