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Peoria County Completes 'A Final Salute' To Area Veterans With Third Statue Dedication

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Brady Johnson
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WCBU

After over 20 years the Peoria County Veterans' Memorial Committee finished dedicating the honor to those who served from Peoria County since the Second World War.

Since the dedication of both World War memorials back in 2007, the second committee focused on the conflicts since 1945, calling it “A Final Salute.” The dedication of two sculptures from the Korean and Vietnam Wars was finished back in 2018.

The final sculpture is of a female fighter pilot from the Gulf War, which was commemorated Saturday by Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a veteran herself who was a recipient of the Purple Heart.

During a visit, Duckworth acknowledged the injustices veterans faced in America’s past, but she said progress is continuing onward.

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Brady Johnson
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth speaks Saturday in Peoria.

“That the notion of an all-female flight crew goes [from] exceptional to unremarkable,” Duckworth said. “We are getting more perfect every day. After all, we are a nation full of people who refuse to accept the status quo that doesn’t accept all of us. A country full of folks who know women belong anywhere that men do.”

Peoria County board member and Veterans Memorial Committee member Phil Salzer says the patches on the “Lady Liberty” statue’s uniform represent the first three female fighter pilots back in 1994.

“These three people are ones who took to the sky, United States Navy Lieutenant Kara Spears Hultgreen, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Martha McSally, and Air Force Major General Jeannie Leavitt. I look forward to seeing this statue next to our other two,” Salzer said.

The sculpture was made by Darwin Wolf, a resident of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The total cost of the sculpture was $63,400.

Duckworth spoke after the dedication on a variety of issues, including our alliance with Taiwan, diversity in America’s military and civil service, and her conversation with Mayor Rita Ali about the city’s stormwater system.

Last week, Duckworth reintroduced legislation aiming to save non-citizen veterans from being deported, the Veterans Visa and Protection Act of 2021, as well as establishing data on those seeking immigration benefits, the Immigrant Veterans Eligibility Tracking System (I-VETS Act) of 2021. The final of the three bills, the Healthcare Opportunities for Patriots in Exile (HOPE) Act of 2021, would allow deported veterans to return to the U.S. to seek medical care.

“I think most Americans would be surprised to know that veterans don’t automatically get citizenship for service,” Duckworth said. “They’re supposed to, in fact, it was President Bush who signed an executive order to award citizenship to some of those serving in the military. I think one who is willing to wear the uniform of this great nation and lay down their lives for this great nation deserve to be a citizen after an honorable term of service.

All three bills have the support of the American Legion and each bill would void any service to non-citizen veterans who are violent offenders.

Yet, bipartisan support for the bills remains unclear two years after its initial proposal, but Duckworth says bipartisanship is still alive in Washington.

“I just passed an infrastructure bill on wastewater and stormwater management and that got unanimous support out of committee,” Senator Duckworth said. “I actually got 89 votes on the floor of the Senate for my bill to get lead out of our drinking water supply. So there is still bipartisanship out of Washington.

Peoria County’s first memorial called the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial, commemorating Civil War veterans, was dedicated in 1899.

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