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  • Writer's pictureDale Holbrook

Staff Sgt. Joshua Melton

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

Nestled amidst the serene country roads and cornfields of the Midwest, Hidden Lake Winery stands as a testament to natural beauty, elegance, and charm. This story unfolds in the heart of southern Illinois, where the winery has been the backdrop for numerous unforgettable ceremonies and events. However, one recent occasion stood out above the rest—a heartfelt tribute to honor Illinois’ fallen warriors and a weekend dedicated to military appreciation.

On April 8, this unique winery, established in 2005, transformed into a place of solemn reflection and heartfelt dedication. The visionaries behind this extraordinary event were none other than winery owner Dale Holbrook and general manager Missy Shirley.

Joshua Melton Hidden River

Remembering Staff Sgt. Joshua Melton

The centerpiece of the weekend’s events took place on Saturday, April 9, with the unveiling of a memorial designed to honor veterans who had given their lives in service to their country. This memorial featured a solemn tribute wall adorned with plaques engraved with the names and ranks of these fallen heroes.

At the heart of this tribute was a life-size statue sculpted by Dale Holbrook himself. This statue depicted Staff Sgt. Joshua Melton, a beloved figure from Clinton County, Illinois. Joshua Melton’s story was one that resonated deeply with the community, as he had tragically lost his life in June 2009 when an improvised explosive device detonated in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Dale Holbrook expressed his intent behind the statue, saying, “I want this to honor Josh as both a dedicated Soldier and a man who loved his life, his family, and his friends.” Joshua Melton was known for his selflessness and was remembered fondly by many in Clinton County. Richie G. Holtgrave, Melton’s cousin, reflected on his character, stating, “He would’ve helped anybody, and he didn’t have one enemy.”

Staff SGT Joshua Melton

A Community United

The event on April 9 drew a distinguished lineup of speakers, including Maj. Gen. William L. Enyart, the Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard, State Senator Kyle McCarter, Dale Holbrook, and family and friends of other Illinois servicemembers who had made the ultimate sacrifice.

The event served as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by servicemembers and the importance of honoring their memory. Despite the somber moments and emotional speeches, there was a sense of gratitude and unity among the attendees.

Over 650 guests attended the event on April 9 and April 10 to pay their respects to the men and women in uniform. The occasion was also graced by the presence of the Illinois Patriot Guard, Miss Illinois Teen USA Paige Higgerson, the St. Louis Rams cheerleaders, Poison cover band Posin, representatives from both the American Legion and the VFW, and musical performers Kerry Steinmann and Stephen Koritta.

During Saturday’s ceremony, Stephen Koritta performed a moving song titled “Central Standard Time,” marking the solemn occasion with a heartfelt musical tribute.

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