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RACINE — All gave some, some gave all, and this 4th of July, the American Legion Post 310 Racine has given their all. Faithful members have been giving of their time, money and talents to restore their 100-year-old Spirit of ’76 and Boys of ’76 float, just in time for the 87th annual 4th Fest of Greater Racine 4th of July parade.

For over a month, veterans who belong to the local post have been working to keep the spirit of the Spirit of ’76 and the Boys of ’76 float alive by rebuilding, remaking, and modernizing their bronzed gem.

Spirit of ’76, Boys of ’76, parade float
Members of the American Legion Post 310 Racine rebuilt the float after 100 years of participating in parades. – Credit: Emma Widmar

The structure sits upon the frame of a 1920s Pierce-Arrow town car. The frame of this antique would not be able to bear the weight of the living memorial for another parade. As Independence Day inched closer, the local post was met with the decision to renew the structure of this float or to call it quits on the beloved tradition that gets parade viewers talking and moved to tears each year. 

Veterans who belong to the local post stepped up to continue what has been a custom for a century.

Veterans save history and memories

Spirit of ’76, Boys of ’76, parade float
Veteran Ricky Lucas believes the only choice was to give the float new life this year as it turned 100 years old. – Credit: Emma Widmar

Ricky Lucas, a Marine who served during the time of the Gulf War and gave a total of 10 years to his country, was essential in taking the float from being unsafe due to dry-rot to useable and secure.

“We didn’t have a choice,” said Lucas about the recrafting of the float. “It’s a labor of love.”

For about 15 years, Lucas has been in charge of the endeavor. He even stands as one of the bronzed statues on the float, which is a massive honor for this veteran from Racine.

“I love it. I love these guys. I think about it all year long. We are the longest-running, non-duplicated, living memorial bronzed float in the U.S.,” shared Lucas who sat alongside Chris Slater, a former sergeant in the Marine Corps, serving from 2011 to 2016.

Even though the float has gotten a makeover and a facelift, what this is all about will never change.

Spirit of ’76, Boys of ’76, parade float
Veterans working on the Spirit of ‘76 side of the float. – Credit: Emma Widmar

“We’re incorporating the old with the new,” explained Lucas.

To him, the float represents a piece of history for America, Racine, and the American Legion Post 310 Racine.

Two parts, one float

This Living Memorial features two historical periods on one float. Each year since its inception has been an attention grabber for parade-goers.

The ‘Spirit of ’76’ side

The side of the float that represents the Spirit of ’76 pays tribute to the painting of the same name, commonly known as Yankee Doodle. The float was once part of the 100th-anniversary celebration of the United States declaring independence. In addition, this side of the float celebrates the American Revolution.

“There are the two drummer boys and the flute player,” said Lucas.

There are also members who represent wounded soldiers.

The ‘Boys of ’76’ side

Spirit of ’76, Boys of ’76,  parade float
Items from World War I are used today as a part of the living memorial. – Credit: Emma Widmar

“It was built for the observation of the sacrifice of war from World War I,” explained Lucas. “It was a ‘welcome home’ gift.”

History comes to life with the use of almost all original pieces from World War I including a canteen from 1918, hats, uniforms, equipment, and demilitarized weaponry on this float.

Spirit of ’76, Boys of ’76, parade float
A canteen from 1918 used in World War I that is used on the Boys of ‘76 side of the float. – Credit: Emma Widmar
Spirit of ’76, Boys of ’76, parade float
John V. and Tim Weidner work on rebuilding the Boys of ‘76 float. – Credit: Emma Widmar

Bringing it to life

According to local veterans, they—and many other veterans and volunteers—have been giving their time to make this float come to life in parades for the 4th of July and Memorial Day for a century now.

Jon Ervin has been a standing participant on the float for 40 years. Although he is not a veteran, he has been involved for the most years.

It’s a tradition that involves holding positions, not moving and staying focused, but it’s a price men like Jon are willing to pay for those who paid the ultimate price.

Spirit of ’76, Boys of ’76, parade float
Veterans who belong to the American Legion Post 310 Racine have given it their all to restore their beloved float in time for the 4th of July parade. – Credit: Emma Widmar

Included in the bunch that brings this float to life is Jon Vanderwielen, a 6-year Navy Veteran from Racine, whose family has a long-standing history of being involved with the Drum and Bugle Corps, the Explorer Scouts, and with the Kilties.

“It’s quite a privilege to be able to be able to ride,” said Vanderwielen.

The feeling of being in front of Racine, on the 4th of July as a group of veterans on the float, is indescribable.

“It’s a rush,” said Lucas. “It feels really proud to be an American on that day.”

Support needed

The float repairs cost The American Legion Post 310 Racine between $1,200 and $1,500 to replace the base and several other elements, including wood and bolts.

Donations from The Moose Club, Rust-Oleum and Diamond Transportation were a tremendous help this year.

However, there is still more work to be done including tire replacement and finding a permanent home for the float to name a few.

‘We are going to continue to try and upgrade it,” said Slater.

According to John Capriotti from The American Legion Post 310 Racine, he believes their organization is vital in helping to “keep the history of veterans in the minds of people so that it doesn’t disappear.”

The float does just that for the community.

The float in action

  • The Spirit of '76 and the Boys of '76
  • The Spirit of '76 and the Boys of '76
  • The Spirit of '76 and the Boys of '76
  • The Spirit of '76 and the Boys of '76

Ways to help

There are numerous ways to help keep the tradition alive:

  • Donations can be made by delivering funds to The American Legion Post 310 Racine, 820 Main St.
    • Please indicate if you’d like the funds to go specifically for the float when delivering.
  • If you are a veteran, join the post.
  • Businesses and organizations can connect on donation storage space, items, or resources.
  • Like the group on Facebook for updates .

4th of July


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