ROCKFORD — U.S. Navy SEAL and Rockford native Petty Officer Jon Tumilson and his dog, Hawkeye, will be able to forever run through the prairies of the Rockford Fossil and Prairie Park.
A bronze statue of Tumilson — one of 30 American troops killed in Afghanistan on Aug. 6, 2011, when their helicopter was shot down en route to a combat mission — and Hawkeye were unveiled and dedicated Friday night at the park.
“Thank you to ... the board for allowing us such a beautiful place for Jon and Hawkeye to run forever,” said Tumilson’s brother-in-law Scott McMeekan.
The statue was made by Jeff Adams, of In Bronze, of Mt. Morris, Ill. It depicts Tumilson and Hawkeye running, which the two loved to do.
“I can’t tell you what an honor it was to be entrusted with the image of Jon,” Adams said.
He said he spent six to eight months trying to “breath life” into a man he never knew. The Tumilson family sent photos and measurements such as his shoe size and Adams read Navy SEAL books, but it was the stories of Tumilson that inspired him.
“Here on this extraordinary hilltop we dedicate this statue to the memory and intensity Jon brought to life,” Adams said.
U.S. Navy (retired) Capt. Perry F. “Pete” Van Hooser III spoke about the intensity involved in being a Navy SEAL. He worked with Tumilson and his team.
“There is a bond between all who wear the SEAL trident,” he said. “The bond is sacred.”
“JT lived this brotherhood,” he added. “JT earned his trident every day.”
U.S. Navy Lt. Robert Bradshaw spoke about Tumilson’s character, too. He was chaplin for Tumilson’s SEAL team.
“Jon was a gift to us,” he said. “He was fully secure in who he was. JT was a man of faith, a warrior.”
All of the speakers, including Iowa State Rep. Josh Byrnes, encouraged the more than 200 people in attendance to never forget the people who serve the United States.
“Everyday is Memorial Day and everyday is Veterans Day,” Byrnes said. “It shouldn’t be just one day we honor these people.”
People were also encouraged to crush their excuses like Bradshaw explained to the families of the 30 SEAL members after their deaths.
“I will never forget what he said,” McMeekan said, “‘These are the type of mean who crushed their excuses.’ ”
That quote inspired the Go Crush It 5K Challenge and Operation Go Crush It Collection Drive for military families, which are both part of continuing events on Saturday.
Other Saturday events include Freedom Fest 9 a.m.- 3 p.m. at the Fossil and Prairie Park, which will include family activities; a steak sandwich meal 5-7 p.m. at Little League Ball Fields in Rockford; and the Freedom Fest Benefit Concert featuring Farm Rock and Ayla Brown from 7-10 p.m. at the ball fields. Fireworks will follow the concert.
All proceeds from the event will benefit 3 Minutes Out, the foundation the family set up after Tumilson’s death.
For more information visit www.3minutesout.org.