WASHBURN — When Rob Lear was 28 years old, his little brother was lost, and presumed dead, in the East China Sea. Twenty-eight years later, tears blur his vision when he tells the story of James Lear, a fireman apprentice in the U.S. Navy.

“I knew that was going to be hard,” he said, wiping his face.

Seven fallen soldiers and sailors who once called Washburn home were honored Sunday with the dedication of Hometown Heroes banners, joining 60 others hung in Peoria and Pekin.

America’s Gold Star Families, a charity dedicated to helping the families of fallen service members, or Gold Star families, cope with their losses, began the banner program last year in Peoria. Lear said he knew immediately that he wanted to get one for his brother.

“But my little brother didn’t really have any connection with Peoria,” he said. “So I said I wonder if we could have it say Washburn instead.”

Patti Smith, founder of the organization, was quick to let Lear take the project into his own hands, he said.

“Everybody I talked to here was very supportive — the whole (American) Legion family, the village board. Everybody said, ‘Yeah, we’ll help you,’” Lear said. “We’re very happy it turned out the way it did. We’ve heard nothing but positive feedback from the community.”

The banners, which are now scattered throughout downtown Washburn, are expected to hang for three years before they will be given to the seven Gold Star families, Lear said.

The small Woodford County village has lost seven members of the armed forces in the last century, leaving seven Gold Star families behind. All seven were between the ages of 19 and 23 when they died.

Three Army soldiers and one Marine were killed during World War II: Sgt. Delmar Keith Elting, Pvt. Donald Kenyon, Pvt. Marvin Meils and Pfc. Henry Weber.

Pfc. John Herington was killed in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. James Lear, the only sailor, was not in combat when he went overboard and died while stationed near Kyushu, Japan, in 1989.

Charles Herron was killed March 4, 1918, while serving in World War I, but most of his story is unknown.

“It was interesting research; I just wish I could have found something out about the one World War I guy,” Lear said. “Unfortunately, since he was so long ago, there’s no military records that go back that far.”

Brothers, sisters-in-law and a nephew of the Hometown Heroes were joined by about 80 members of the community for the dedication at the Washburn American Legion Post 661 Sunday.

Before his benediction, the Rev. Bob DeBolt acknowledged the family members who cried when their Hero’s story was told. He then shared what his friend, Frank, who is also a former soldier, said about tears.

“It kind of starts in your chest and it works up through into your neck and you can’t hardly speak and all of a sudden these tears start rolling down your cheeks,” DeBolt said. “He says ‘Those aren’t tears of grieving or mourning or sorrow, but it’s liquid love.’”

Kelsey Watznauer can be reached at kwatznauer@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @kwatznauer.