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Freedom Run Honors Soldiers of Mid-East Conflicts

MARSEILLES, Ill. (CBS) ― Hundreds of motorcyclists hit the highway for the annual "Illinois Freedom Run." The 65-mile trek is a small way for the cyclists to honor U.S. soldiers who have died in the Mid-East conflicts. CBS 2's Mike Puccinelli reports.

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Jun 21, 2008
Mike Puccinelli

Marseilles, Ill. looked more like Sturgis, S.D. Saturday as the tiny town was overrun by motorcycles.

They came from Virginia, Iowa, and seemingly everywhere in between. Army Maj. General William Kirkland leaves for Afghanistan Sunday, but says the memory of all the rumbling motors will still be ringing in his ears.

"To hear 40,000 or 30,000 bikes in favor of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and the Marines, and Coast Guard, it's just an awesome feeling," Kirkland said.

And the tens of thousands in Marseilles Saturday were there to pay tribute to those who paid the ultimate price -- the thousands of men and women whose names are etched on the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial. The wall was erected four years ago by Illinois motorcyclists who wanted to honor all of those killed in Middle East conflicts since 1980.

"This is the first time in the history of the United States that a memorial has been erected and unveiled while names are still being added while the war was ongoing – it never happened in this country before," said Tom Yarber of the "Illinois Freedom Run."

One of those in attendance today was Staff Sgt. Kevin Baker of the U.S. Marine Corp. He lost use of his legs to a roadside bomb in Fallujah.

"It's nice to see his name on the wall and not have to wait 20 or 30 years," Baker said.

Baker is talking about Neil C. Roberts -- the medic who came to his aid on that fateful day in 2006.

"He was patching up the wounds that I had and protecting me at the same time and he got shot. The last thing he said to me was 'don't move, I'm going to lay on top of you,' and to come out here and see his name on the wall..." Baker said.

It's stories of sacrifice like that that Illinois Freedom Run organizers say will keep bringing them to the Marseilles riverfront where the wall stands as a silent reminder that freedom isn't free.