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Family, friends ride to remember Sgt. Jesse Tilton

LONG CREEK, Ill. (MCT) -- Charles Carlen remembers Jesse Tilton was never like most of the other soldiers.

While Tilton never fit the typical stereotype people may have of soldiers, Carlen said there was something that really made his friend stand out.

"(Tilton) didn't fit the physical mold, and he wasn't afraid to speak his mind," Carlen said. "Instead, he had such a huge heart. He never gave up, and he never quit."

Carlen, who first met Tilton at Fort Bragg in North Carolina before they were deployed overseas with the Armys' 82nd Airborne Division, was among the dozens who joined together Saturday for the fourth annual Ride in Memory of Sgt. Jesse R. Tilton, an Army medic who died July 16, 2010, from wounds suffered while tending to a fellow soldier under enemy fire in Afghanistan.

The ride began in the morning at the Coziahr-Harley Davidson in Forysth. More than a dozen friends, family members and others came together to ride off to the Weldon Springs State Park Veteran's Memorial in Clinton, where they were met by others. The group then headed to Long Creek Cemetery, where Tilton is buried, before heading to Timbuktu in Mount Zion to get food and drinks and reminisce on Tilton's life.

Steve Langhoff, who helped put together this year's event, said they expected around 50 people total to partake in some part of the ride.

This year's event was more low key than last year, where hundreds of vehicles arrived to honor Tilton and other fallen soldiers. In addition, last year's event featured an appearance from Gov. Pat Quinn along with the Illinois Fallen Heroes Memorial Wall.

The plan was to make this year's more family-oriented and focused on friends and family of Tilton coming together to pay their respects.

As the crowd started to form Saturday morning, no person was doing more to welcome people than Tilton's mother, Julie Magana.

"He's remembered, and I can feel that," she said. "We appreciate everybody remembering and coming out to support us."

That support could be felt by Carlen as well. Saturday's event was the first time he had been able to take part in the ride, and he said the friendliness and support from everyone to the Tinton family was unmistakable.

"I'm still taking in all of this support being given not only Jesse but for Julie as well," Carlen said. "I'm sure means a lot."

rvoyles@herald-review.com

(c) 2014, Herald & Review. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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