For 2½ months, residents of nursing and assisted living homes have been unable to welcome visitors because of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday morning, veteran residents of three local homes were visited with a drive-by parade in celebration of Military Appreciation Month.
The drive-by parade, which started at Jewel-Osco in Sycamore, visited Lincolnshire Place and Bethany Rehabilitation & Health Care Center in Sycamore and Heritage Woods in DeKalb.
Veterans either watched the parade outside from a safe distance away or indoors from windows.
More than 20 vehicles and 15 motorcycles decorated with balloons, streamers, window art and signs participated in the parade.
Roger Pelkey of Rockford attended the event in his red Mazda Miata, decorated with flags and patriotic-colored flowers and pinwheels. Pelkey, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, served from 1969 to 1975.
“It’s important to let veterans know they’re not forgotten,” Pelkey said. “They made great sacrifices as they served their country, and we need to recognize and appreciate that.”
Tina Thompson, director of Lincolnshire Place, said that the parade was a way for veteran residents to “feel honored and remembered.”
“It’s been difficult for our residents and their families because they have not been able to see their loved ones in quite a while,” Thompson said. “Our residents have memory loss, and it’s sometimes hard to explain to them why they can’t have visitors.”
Janine Idstein, care transition coordinator and veteran services specialist with Heartland Hospice, described the parade as “an easy way to let veterans know we appreciate and honor them.”
“A parade is a great way to celebrate veterans and show that we care,” she said. “Even though we’re not able to spend time with them because of coronavirus restrictions, we wanted to let them know that we’re still thinking about them.”
“We don’t need a special day to honor veterans, but it’s important that we reach out to them,” said Meghan Wilinski, senior account liaison for Heartland Hospice. “It’s important to thank them for their service and bring joy to their day.”
Bob White, a 91-year-old U.S. Army Air Corps veteran living at Lincolnshire Place, said that he had never experienced anything like the parade. White sat outside in his wheelchair and waved as the parade drove past.
“It was just beautiful,” he said. “It was a wonderful experience.”