LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - Freedom Fest has officially kicked off and the music has begun.
The bands are expected to bring in crowds of more than 6,000 people, but many are also here to celebrate the true reason behind Freedom Fest: the veterans who made it all possible.
When talking to family members of fallen soldiers and veterans, everyone said the same thing -- Freedom Fest is about showing all those who have served respect.
Hundreds of motorcycles left University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Saturday afternoon on a 100-mile trip through the Coulee Region.
John Vacho, of Ladysmith, Wisconsin, is one of those riders.
"I served in the Army Reserve myself, I recently retired a year ago with 39 years of service as a command sargent major," Vacho said.
He isn't the only member of his family who has answered the call to serve.
"My son Nathan, he was 29 years old he was an Army Reserve solider. They were on a patrol one day, and an IED hit their vehicle and pretty much wiped it out," Vacho said.
Vacho's son was killed May 5, 2006.
Vacho has been invited to Freedom Fest for the past eight years, but this is the first time he accepted the invitation.
"I can look around here and I know why they all came because they respect the veterans, they respect the serviceman, and they respect those that gave their lives and their service to the country," Vacho said.
Green Bay native Ron Ross also knows the pain that comes with losing a son.
"Our son was Cpl. Justin David Ross. He served out of the 428th engineer company out of Wausau. He was on point and they were clearing the way, and he got hit by a sniper and was killed very suddenly on March 26, 2011," Ross said.
Ross is making his second trip to Freedom Fest this year because he says the people at this event have become his family.
"Freedom Fest is exciting because you have people coming together who understand what you've been through because they've been through it themselves, and it's a family that we always say, 'glad to know you, sorry for the circumstances for which we came to know you,'" Ross said.
As fathers of fallen Wisconsin soldiers, Ross and Vacho recognize the sacrifice of serving our country.
"That's what it's all about, it's all about respect," Vacho said.
Saturday night at 8:30 on the fest grounds there will be a presentation of our fallen heroes. The tribute recognizes all fallen soldiers from Wisconsin to help remind everyone of the real reason behind Freedom Fest.
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