Fallen U.S. soldier rememberd at Mokena Fourth of July parade
By Erin Gallagher Correspondent July 4, 2014 4:34PM
The horse that pulled the fallen soldier's casket opened Mokena's Fourth of July parade, on Friday, July 4, 2014, without a rider. As the horse came around the corner of LaPorte and Wolf Roads, crowds gave it a standing ovation. Cheers erupted as a message followed. "The Toppen family wishes to thank all of Mokena for your prayers and support," read the sign being carried behind the horse. | Erin Gallagher/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 6, 2014 2:14AM
As Mokena’s streets were lined with parade spectators waving flags for the Independence Day parade, it was an eerie reminder for some.
Just two weeks ago the same stretch of Wolf Road welcomed home the body of local hero, PFC Aaron Toppen, who was killed by friendly fire while on patrol in Afghanistan.
On Friday, many people wore the blue T-shirts that read “freedom isn’t free.” The shirts had been sold as a fundraiser for the Toppen family. The horse that pulled the fallen soldier’s casket opened the parade without a rider. As the horse came around the corner of LaPorte and Wolf Roads, crowds gave it a standing ovation.
Cheers erupted as a message followed.
“The Toppen family wishes to thank all of Mokena for your prayers and support,” read the sign being carried behind the horse.
Bands marched, sirens roared, flags waived.
People came from all over to celebrate July 4.
Some, like New Lenox resident Lindsay Lowell said it’s a tradition. Friends Grace Christopher and Lauren Sullivan, both 10, attend St. Mary’s School in Mokena. They both come from Homer Glen to see the parade each year.
“We come here every year,” said Na McKernan, of Frankfort.
“We wanted to see the parade,” added McKernan’s daughter, Jamie, 6.
Others are starting a new tradition. Lejaren Malibiran said he came with family and friends last year, and had such a great time they came back.
The parade was filled with all the typical entries, such as military Jeeps and veteran biker clubs. Lincoln-Way high schools had their marching bands. Would-be politicians, such as Mike Kelly, who is running for Will County Sheriff, were not to be left out.
There also were some non-traditional entries.
The Mokena Fire Department started its line of engines with an antique Ford pumper. From the same bygone era, the Wicked Witch of the West scared kids with her flying monkeys from Grace Fellowship Church.
There were also some sweet rides, with a couple unexpected drivers. Pastor Bob Morlan, also from Grace Fellowship Church, drove a cherry 1955 Chevy. Manhattan’s Jim Gast drove a 1966 Mustang convertible with Kevin Molloy shotgun, for the Lincoln-Way School District 210. They joked, calling it the drivers’ ed car.
In a 1960 Ford Starliner was a group called Soldiers Guardian Angels. The Batmobile made an appearance, too, pulled by Cheap Keys Locksmiths.
A driver in a black top hat commanded the Victorian-style horse-drawn hearse, sponsored by Vandenberg Funeral Home.
The streets were filled with bicycles, tricycles, wagons and strollers.