Two Sauk Valley veterans will be honored for their community service at the Illinois Bicentennial Honor 200

 

They served their country with honor. They have been living their lives with honor as well and on December 3 two veterans John Espinoza and Raymond Torres from Sterling-Rock Falls area will be recognized at the Illinois Bicentennial Honor 200.

The Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Illinois Bicentennial Office present Bicentennial Honor 200 that honors 200 veterans who continue to make contributions that benefit and give inspiration to their communities in Illinois. The recipients of this award represent more than 50 counties in Illinois and they will be honored during the state’s 200th birthday celebration at the United Center in Chicago on December 3, 2018.

 

John Espinoza and his wife Jane.

John Espinoza, 75 of Rock Falls, Illinois served as Marine between 1961 and 1964. Mr. Espinoza indicated that he was on the ship during an uncertain time of the Cuban Blockade. After leaving the Marines, Mr. Espinoza worked at Northwestern Steel and Wire for the next 35 years. For years he has been a member of the Whiteside County Board, the county’s Juvenile Committee, the Whiteside Senior Center Board, the Whiteside County Community Clinic Board, Rock Falls Fire and Police Commission and Whiteside County Honor Flight. Mr. Espinoza, also, represents the county on the Blackhawk Hill Regional Council. This former Marine was also appointed to serve on Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti’s Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates Task Force. This veteran might be an ex-Marine, but he never stopped serving his country and people of his community.

“Chairman nominate me {for Illinois Bicentennial Honor 200],” Mr. John Espinoza explained. “I don’t know how they selected me. I feel very humbled. It was very unexpected [to be chosen] out of so many people in Illinois.”

Mr. Espinoza added that he was honored to be in a company of veterans chosen for the Illinois Bicentennial Honor including his good friend of many year Ray Torres.

Ray Torres, 71-year-old from Sterling, IL, was born in a large family in Louisiana. His parents, Mexican sharecroppers, had 13 children. When he was young Mr. Torres joined the Navy looking to get a better education. Mr. Torres wanted a career in a medical field. In the fall of 1967 he was sent to Vietnam. After arriving he ended up fighting at the longest battle of the war – the 77-day siege at Khe Sanh. Mr. Torres received a Purple Heart, a Vietnam service medal and two bronze stars and combat insignia, and combat action ribbon and other commendations.

After this Navy corpsman left the service, he came home to take care of his terminally ill father. He also, worked at Northwestern Steel and Wire for many years. After the mill closed Mr. Torres went to work as phlebotomist for the Red Cross. He helped to start a bilingual program where he educated the Spanish speaking population about blood donations. He also served in a Red Cross committee based in Peoria that was working on finding better ways to serve the Latino communities and encourage Latinos of Illinois and Iowa to donate blood.

In 2011 Mr. Torres finally opened his heart and shared his battle story for a documentary called “Vietnam in HD” that aired on the History Channel. Uo until then Mr. Torres had a very hard time sharing his story. When Vietnam veterans came home from the war, they were treated badly, and Mr. Torres felt like it was not fair to those veterans that served and especially to those that sacrificed their lives for this country. Before he could talk about his experience, he felt as if no one would understand him, he was embarrassed and would start crying when all the bad memories flooded him.

Moline’s Mayor Stephanie Acri with Ray Torres and his wife Caroline Torres at the “Wall That Heals” exhibit at WIU QC Campus July of last year.

“[Vietnam War Veterans} did not get the respect they deserved,” Mr. Torres repeats frequently. "The country did not understand the ultimate sacrifice and they treated us bad and I lost a lot of friends and (there was a lot of) loss of life but there was not respect.”

After the documentary with his story aired, Mr. Torres could speak out more on his own behalf and on the behalf of all Vietnam War Veterans. He gives many talks sharing his story to different schools, organizations, clubs, etc. His presentation at a history class at Sauk Valley Community College was filmed and even submitted to the Library of Congress.

Mr. Torres shared that he frequently goes to Combat Action meetings in the Quad Cities, where he meets with other veterans and shares his experiences in combat and his battle with PTSD. It took 30 years for this veteran to find his voice and he is not about to stop talking. Even though he is retired now, he does not stop and continues serving his community as well.  Mr. Torres shared that he is deeply involved with his church and he takes communion to veterans in nursing homes.

"It is quite an honor to be part of [nominated] veterans in Illinois,” Mr. Torres said.

 

“Veterans deserve to be honored and recognized every day by the people and the county they serve. Today, I offer my congratulations and sincere gratitude to retired Marine John Espinoza and Navy Corpsman Raymond E. Torres for being selected to be honored at the state of Illinois’ Bicentennial Celebration.” said Tony McCombie the state representative for the 71st District.

 

“They have served our country honorably and have continued to serve their communities of Sterling and Rock Falls.  Service is in these heroes hearts and I am honored to learn from them as they continue to make personal sacrifices for our communities long after receiving their DD214s.” she added.

Mr. Espinoza and Mr. Torres might have been honorably discharged from the Navy many years ago, but these two veterans never stopped serving their country and communities they live in. For these and many other contributions they made to their communities over the years they are being honored and celebrated with the Illinois Bicentennial Honor 200. The celebration of the 200th birthday of the state of Illinois and presentation of the Illinois Bicentennial 200 will be on December 3, 2018 at the United Center in Chicago, IL.

 

 

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