NEW LONDON - In the last six years this region has shed numerous tears for the hometown soldiers who died serving their country.
On Saturday these soldiers, their families and other past and current veterans will be honored during a free, three-hour afternoon concert as part of New London's Waterdays celebration.
Country musician Rockie Lynne, who served three years in the 82nd Airborne at Ft. Bragg and has performed for soldiers in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf, will perform from 1 to 4 p.m. in the New London city parking lot.
During the first two hours of the performance, which will start after the Waterdays parade, Lynne will perform his regular country music show.
The last hour of the concert will be a special "tribute to the troops," said Sharon Hanson, who along with April Dorry is organizing this year's Waterdays festivities.
His featured song is "Heroes come from small towns," which has become an anthem of sorts for troops and communities like New London, which experienced the difficult loss last fall of native son Ryane Clark.
Clark was killed while serving in Afghanistan.
"What we really hope for is to honor those who have served," said Dorry.
"We want the families to feel our gratitude,"she added.
The theme of the entire 2011 Waterdays is "Small Town Heroes."
Dorry said it's also hoped the event will "provide some healing" for the community, which is still mourning the loss of Clark, and encourage people to "count their daily blessings for the freedoms we have."
Clark's parents, Rick and Tracy Clark, from New London, as well as family members representing the area's other fallen soldiers, have been asked to serve as the grand marshals for the Waterdays parade.
Some of the families have agreed and will be in the parade. Signs with the names of all the fallen soldiers from the area will be on the float, said Hanson.
She said some of the families have said they don't want the community to focus on the sadness of their loss but to have fun and celebrate life.
It will also give the community a chance to honor the families and show that they are "not forgotten people in the community," said Dorry.
About 500 flags will be handed out prior to the parade for people to wave as the families pass by.
As part of that musical tribute to the troops during Lynne's concert, a moment of silence will be held for the fallen soldiers. "Gold Star" families will be invited to hold the flag and veterans invited to stand to be recognized, said Hanson.
Most of the cost of bringing Lynne to New London is being covered through Waterdays funds, businesses and donations from service organizations.
"It's free because we want everyone to have the honor to attend," said Dorry.
Donations will be collected during the concert that will be given to HomeFront Connection, a Willmar-based organization that helps families of deployed soldiers.
A tent will be erected to provide shade during the concert and some chairs will be provided, but people are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs to the show to hear Lynne, who Dorry called "a big deal" in the music world and for soldiers. He's one of the organizers for the annual "Tribute to the Troops" motorcycle ride in Minnesota.
The town's annual Mill Pond Mile rule, which attracted 150 youth last year, is also taking on the "Small Town Heroes" theme and organizers will be distributing camouflaged T-shirts to participants this year.
The National Guard will make "dog tags" for youth and provide a rock wall for climbing.