BLOOMINGTON — A vein of patriotism ran strong through the Twin Cities on Saturday.

Large crowds honored Army Sgt. Josh Rodgers along an eight-mile funeral procession that stretched from Eastview Christian Church in Normal to Evergreen Cemetery in Bloomington.

Rodgers, a 2013 Normal Community High School graduate, was killed in action in Afghanistan in April.

Flags of every size lined ditches. The stars and stripes hung from many front porches and fluttered from windows of cars.

Krista McBeath of Bloomington and her daughter Jillian, 4, sat in the grass outside Cross Pointe Church of God in Normal. The duo practiced waving flags and pinwheels before the procession began.

“I want to teach my daughter about the freedoms we have and who protects them,” said McBeath. “I hope the Rodgers family feels a tremendous outpouring of love and support. I hope it brings them peace knowing people of Bloomington-Normal greatly appreciate the sacrifice their son made.”

Hundreds gathered on the sidewalk along Airport Road in Bloomington, where a long row of flags whipped in the wind.

The crowd was silent as the long line of cars passed. People saluted, held hands over their hearts or lifted flags as car passengers wiped tears at the sight.

Keagan Theobald, 8, and her sister Emmy Theobald, 6, waved handmade paper flags. 

“After we made the flags, our mom told us what happened and I thought it would be good to wave them today,” said Emmy.

“I hope it makes the (Rodgers) family feel glad,” said Keagan.

Their mother, Deanna Theobald of Bloomington, grew emotional as she spoke of the conversation she recently had with her daughters regarding freedom and sacrifice.

“It’s important to talk to my kids about these things,” said Theobald. “It’s so sad that this happens, but because of people fighting for our freedom, we’re free to live normal lives.”

Brett Keltz of Bloomington stood with his son Robert, a junior at Bloomington Junior High School. Brett Keltz recently returned home after serving in the Navy for 30 years.

He said he appreciates the recent wave of patriotism in Bloomington-Normal.

“Nothing will ever make this passing easier for the family, but at least they know they’ll always have the support of the community,” said Brett Keltz.

Robert Keltz said he understands the grief of losing a family member and wanted to offer support to the Rodgers family.

“I know it might not help much, but I hope while they’re dealing with this loss, our support helps a little bit,” said Robert Keltz.

Multiple veterans, including Army Sgt. Luis Sandoval of Bloomington, wore their uniforms.

“I hope the family knows veterans serving in the past, present and future will support him and his family long after he is put to rest,” said Sandoval.

At Evergreen Cemetery, 220 full-size flags lined the path to Rodgers' grave. Cemetery manager Tina Crow said the flags go up every year on Memorial Day to honor deceased veterans.

The flags were raised early this year in Rodgers' name.

"It's a bittersweet feeling," said Crow. "It's good to see everyone in our community has come together to honor Josh Rodgers."

Follow Julia Evelsizer on Twitter: @pg_evelsizer

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Reporter

Reporter for The Pantagraph.