ROCK FALLS, Ill. — Three Rock Falls police officers spent Tuesday morning painting and cleaning the city's Veterans Memorial Park, after vandals caused more than $10,000 in damages.
All three officers are veterans themselves, and say volunteering their time and efforts is about paying respect to the service men and women that came before them.
Throughout the city-owned park, graffiti littered the band shell and flag poles, a security camera had been damaged, and a granite Pearl Harbor memorial had gotten paint on it that, the city has been told, will leave permanent damages.
According to Police Chief David Pilgrim, juveniles were responsible for the mess, which he says has been 'ongoing' over the past several months. Pilgrim also states that those individuals have been identified, but will not be publicly named, due to their age.
"I just don't get it," said Pilgrim. "Just the fact that kids would come in and damage a park in general, but then for it to be a veterans park, just added an extra layer of annoyance and disgust to it."
It's why three of his officers went out of their way, on Tuesday morning, to clean the park up.
Officers Kristian Montanez, Dustin Sugars and Jerrod Reynolds reported to the memorial with paint, rollers, brushes and rakes. They spent the day covering up all of the graffiti on the band shell and then cleaned up the leaves around the structure.
"We just wanted to kind of beautify it a little bit," said Montanez. "You get sick of looking at the mess so you want to clean it up."
And for all three, where the damage occurred, hits a little closer to home.
Montanez is a veteran of both the Air Force and the Army. His colleagues, both former Marines. And all three grew up in the area. Montanez remembers walking to the park to meet up with friends as a young teen.
"I mean, Veteran's Day, obviously for us, is every day," said Montanez. "I mean, we always think about it. We're (at the park), every day, we drive by it, so it was one of those things where we're like, 'let's just knock it out.'"
He said the idea came from Sugars, who responded to a call at the memorial and wanted to do something about all the vandalism. The officers were not paid for their efforts, but said it was still something they wanted to do, to pay homage to their fellow veterans.
"Paying respect and homage to those that come before you, and that's what this (park) is all about," said Montanez. "We want this- everybody to enjoy this. That's what we want for this place. It's just a nice place for people to come and enjoy."
And their efforts touched the heart of James 'Jim' Starr, Commander of the American Legion's Post 902 in Rock Falls.
Starr was drafted back in 1969. As a 19 year old, he enlisted that December, and went to Vietnam as a wheel vehicle mechanic.
When asked about the vandalism at the veterans memorial, he said it disturbed him.
"It really disturbed us bad," said Starr. "The memorial that's down there was originally bought and paid for by veterans and the VFW and the American Legion."
He says while the legion typically counts on community support to keep the park welcoming and presentable, Tuesday's cleanup meant a little extra.
"Veterans are a special group of people," he said, starting to tear up a bit. "Because when they go into the service, they sign a contract with the United States to defend and protect the Untied States. Even up to, and with, their life. And that can't be taken away. And that's how much they love this country."
Three veterans giving back to their community... once again.
"It's giving back, yeah," said Starr. "Veterans are good at that - giving back."