By Derek Beigh, Pantagraph Reporter
NORMAL — Normal’s “hidden hero” is hidden no more — and will stay in hearts and minds for generations to come.
Nearly two years after he was killed during a successful raid on an Islamic State compound in eastern Afghanistan, Normal native Sgt. Josh Rodgers lives on through the Normal Post Office that now bears his name.
“While we can never fully repay him for the sacrifice that he has made, it is my hope, and the hope of many here, that renaming this building will serve as a reminder to everyone … of the honor, the valor and the courage of Josh Rodgers,” said U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Dunlap.
More than 100 family, friends, veterans, elected officials and other community members gathered Thursday outside the post office at 200 W. North St. to honor Rodgers with speeches, music and a 21-gun salute.
“Josh was always the underdog, the one who surprised us all, but showed up when it counted. … He was the hidden hero,” said Nick Rohde, a friend and football teammate of Rodgers at Normal Community High School. “When I think of an impact left, Josh is the first that comes to mind.”
Rodgers’ father, Kevin, got emotional as he thanked those who have made sure his son is remembered, including the fellow Army Rangers who fought on after he died. Two other Rangers, including one who served with Rodgers, spoke about his service and example on Thursday.
“Josh would certainly think all this attention is ridiculous. He was a team player,” said Kevin Rodgers. “Several other Rangers fought for nearly three hours against a superior force — and superior only in number, that is — until they had completed their mission (after his death). That was the best way they could honor Josh.”
Another ceremony is planned at 3 p.m. Friday at the corner of Fort Jesse and Airport roads in Bloomington. A section of Airport is being named for Rodgers because that’s the road he traveled to go to school at Northpoint Elementary and Normal Community High schools.
Mayor Tari Renner presented to Rodgers’ family a proclamation declaring Saturday, April 27, as Joshua P. Rodgers Day in Bloomington. He passed away April 27, 2017.
Rodgers also inspired Heroes of Habitat, a program of Habitat for Humanity of McLean County that will annually honor a McLean County hero by building a Habitat house in his or her name, starting with Rodgers.
The Illinois House also has approved designating Veterans Parkway in Bloomington-Normal in honor of Rodgers. The designation is ceremonial only and did not change the addresses of businesses located on Veterans Parkway.