“Something has to be done to honor all American heroes. That evening I went to bed and I think, ‘A monument.'”
Sonny Soliz had a dream that one day a monument would be built to remember all who’ve given the ultimate sacrifice, both in his city and across the country; so he got to work.
“I started the Hero Street Committee back in 1993,” Soliz said.
Hero street, previously known as second street, is a block and a half long in Silvis, Illinois. In 1967, it was renamed after more than 100 Mexican-Americans from this street served their country. Eight of those men died serving in World War II and Korea making it the highest death toll in a single neighborhood.
Those eight men were: Claro Soliz, Frank Sandoval, Joe Sandoval, William Sandoval, Joseph Gomez, Johnny Munos, Peter Masias and Tony Pompa.
“They fought for freedom and they died for freedom,” said Maria Soliz.
Sonny and his cousin Maria are second street kids.
“There were houses built… 23 houses on this little place,” Maria said. “Everybody knew everybody.”
Growing up, they saw several men leaving or returning home in their uniforms. Their uncle, Staff Sgt. Claro Soliz, was one who never made it back.
“He was killed crossing a barbed wire fence,” Soliz said.
He was an inspiration to build the hero street monument.
“My mother said, ‘I don’t want my brother’s name dragged in the mud any more. If you’re going to do a job, do a good job,’ to me,” Soliz said. “So I volunteered.”
Sonny designed a masterpiece.
“18.5 feet tall, the plaques, the reliefs of the heroes, the awards that were given them, they all wore a GI helmet, the shot the 1 grand rifle, and the American bald eagle up on top,” Soliz said. “Each part is part of a whole. It’s there for a purpose.”
That shocked everyone.
“He doesn’t design monuments,” Maria said. “He didn’t build monuments.”
“I’ve had friends say, ‘Sonny, how did you think of that,'” Soliz said. “I said, ‘I don’t know. I didn’t do it. The good Lord helped me.'”
It was a decade long journey to get the monument built. There were moments of defeat, but Sonny always remembered his uncle’s advice to keep him going.
“‘Don’t give up,'” Soliz’s uncle once told him. “Those words stayed on my mind: ‘Don’t give up.’ I didn’t give up.”
Ultimately bringing the enormous task of the hero street monument to reality. After all, those heroes that served our country never gave up either.
“The monument is for all,” Soliz said. “A-L-L. All veterans: men and women. A tribute to the eight from Hero Street. Don’t be mistaken for that. It’s for everybody.”