This year’s Gold Star 500 bicycle ride from September 20-24 will have new faces from overseas as 12 riders and 12 volunteers from Poland will join the ride. These new participants include members of the Polish military and members of Polish families who have lost loved ones in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“Having our allies participate reinforces the importance of our mission, and it reminds us that others have experienced loss with us,” said Matt Jones, President of Gold Star Mission. “It also shows how these bonds transcend international boundaries. The commitment and compassion our allies have shown is nothing short of amazing.”
This year’s ride will start in Springfield and stop in Quincy, Galesburg, Rock Falls and Woodstock before finishing at the Great Lakes Naval Station. Many of the volunteers with Gold Star Mission are active or retired members of the Illinois National Guard, which has shared a State Partnership Program with Poland since 1993. Some of those volunteers co-deployed with the Polish to either Iraq or Afghanistan. The Polish participants learned about Gold Star Mission by meeting these troops and are considering starting a similar organization in Poland.
Gold Star Mission started in 2017 with the goals of creating awareness of the 300+ Illinois military members killed since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and awarding scholarships in their names with funds raised through a rigorous 500 mile, five day bicycle ride called the Gold Star 500.
Last year the nonprofit awarded $50,000 in scholarships and has awarded $214,000 in scholarships since its inception. Besides its Scholarship Awards and Appreciation Banquet, the group also holds the annual Run for the Fallen, the General Logan 200 bicycle ride, a presence at the state fair’s Veterans Day and virtual events.
This year the organization launched the Gold Star Mission Fallen Heroes History Project. The project documents the lives and service of Illinois’ fallen service members through the eyes of their families and those they served beside. To date, two videos have been created, documenting the lives and service of Illinois Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Kyle Wehrly, killed in action in Iraq on Nov. 3, 2005, and Army Sgt. Anthony Maddox, killed in action in Afghanistan on July 22, 2013. Both these videos premiered at the Illinois State Fair’s Veterans Day. More videos will be produced as funds become available.