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Citrus Heights Messenger

Tribute to Fallen Citrus Heights Soldier

Oct 05, 2023 03:58PM ● By Elise Spleiss

Sacramento Fire and Metro Fire arrived early to fly the traditional fire truck American flag which shows the way to the Tribute to Fallen Soldiers in Citrus Heights on Wednesday, September 27th. Photo courtesy of Tamara Barbu



CITRUS HEIGHTS, CA (MPG) - On Wednesday, September 27, over two dozen motorcycles escorting a 32-foot RV covered with the words, “Tribute to Fallen Soldiers: Memorial Torch Motorcycle Ride” rolled onto the property of the Citrus Heights All Veterans Community Center on Sylvan Road.

Greeted by two Sacramento Metro Fire ladder trucks, those who arrived early viewed the raising of the traditional American flag in honor of former Citrus Heights resident and Mesa Verde graduate Army Specialist Kevin J. Hilaman. Kevin was killed in Kunar, Afghanistan in 2011, following two deployments in Iraq. He died just one day before his 29th birthday. His father and grandfather had both been in the Army.

Bernie, his father, shared that he had been a single parent to Kevin from age 15 to 18.  Being a typical teenager at Mesa Verde and showing no apparent interest in his future, Bernie was surprised and proud when Kevin enlisted in the Army right out of high school, graduated basic training with top honors and became an Army Ranger, one of the most prestigious military units in the United States.

Soon after the arrival of the RV a small trailer appeared carrying an eternal flame and small-scale replica of a coffin covered by an American flag with the words “Tribute to Fallen Soldiers: Memorial Torch Motorcycle Ride” on the side.

Founded in 2009 in Oregon by Warren Williamson, Tribute has made nearly 1,300 home visits to date. Williamson said he is always privileged to do the tribute to meet those families. Each family has a different story.

Williamson explained the Tribute’s itinerary. Wednesday was day 19 of the 22-day ride which began Sept. 9. For this run they made 48 fallen soldier home visits. At the first stop, memorial Gold Star families lit the eternal flame which accompanies every ride. “It was our promise to every family that we would guard and honor and protect the eternal flame just like we would if we were escorting their children.” The flame represents the service, sacrifice and the life and spirit of all our fallen service members,” including Kevin.

The flame is very important to the entire service. Before each tribute and at every overnight location, before anything else, the team first pays respect to the flame for what it represents with a piece of music and a flag salute. The service can then begin.

Kevin’s father and partner Trish Tingle-Key were presented with a mounted photo of Kevin and his family, a plaque and a patch.

The plaque reads ARMY SPC KEVIN J. HILAMAN, Born June 27, 1982 – Died: June 26, 2011 (one day shy of his 29th birthday) Assigned to 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

It continues, “In remembrance of his everlasting call to bravery, honor and sacrifice in the name of country and duty. We as everyday Americans will always be grateful for your fallen hero’s dedication to country and family. With this plaque it is our solemn promise to never forget your fallen soldier and what he has given in the name of honor, duty and freedom.”

Williamson adds, “He is now one of Tribute’s family members, one of our Riders and will forever be with us as long as we continue to do this mission, and we will strive each day to say his name out loud.”

This journey covered six states, visiting the home cities of 48 fallen soldiers. The riders had just arrived from Elk Grove, the first of five tributes.  Upon leaving Citrus Heights they made visits to three more cities before returning to their base in Eugene, Oregon on September 28th.  All 48 soldiers’ names appear on a graphic on the side of the RV.

Upon arriving home in Eugene on Saturday the 28th, the flame was moved to the closing ceremony where a bell was rung 48 times and the name of each soldier recited. The flame was then extinguished which brought the ride to a close.”

However, Kevin’s journey does not end there. The signed flag will be folded in a triangle and will go on a one-year tour around the country with “Flags of Honor Escorts” where it will visit Gold Star Memorials, National Cemeteries, Veteran’s Homes, VFW and American Legion posts. According to Williamson, it will be unfolded for all to read, “so people will know there is a cost to serving one’s country.” Members of the family and close friends signed the flag, then rang the memorial bell indicating to all that Kevin is with them to the remainder of the journey.

Tribute visits are arranged by Michelle Meyer with Survivor Outreach Services (SOS) who contacts the families and makes all the arrangement.

Hilaman said they are very grateful to Jean Rounsavell and her team at the Veterans Community Center for offering their facility for this tribute. He added, “The whole community has put their arms around us, don’t forget, there are a lot of people behind the scenes that fight for our country (besides) those who die for our country.”

The whole ceremony was organized for full impact including signing of the flag to “Hallelujah” and “If Heaven” by Andy Griggs, with the words “Don’t cry for me…there is a time we must all say goodbye…I’m not afraid to die,” which the family believes Kevin would have said.


Bernie Hilaman lights a candle from the eternal candle on the trailer that follows every Tribute journey. At the end of each visit, the candle is extinguished and the bell is rung while saying the name of the fallen soldier. Photo courtesy of Trish Tingle-Key

A signed American flag honors former Citrus Heights resident and Mesa Verde graduate Army Specialist Kevin J. Hilaman who was killed in Kunar, Afghanistan in 2011. Pictured with wife and son. Photo courtesy of Trish Tingle-Key

Gold Star mom and good friend of the family Patty Schumacher, writes a final message to Kevin. Photo courtesy of Trish Tingle-Key

 

Veteran Riders from six states joined in the 14th Annual Tribute to Fallen Soldiers Memorial Torch Motorcycle Ride this September. Photo courtesy of Trish Tingle-Key 

Veteran Riders are a close family. Dozens of riders journey every year with Tribute to Fallen Soldiers to stop at states throughout the country and honor their fellow soldiers who have fallen fighting for their country and our freedom. Photo courtesy of Trish Tingle-Key





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