Lester Creason nearly lost his life in Korea when his Marine unit was ambushed. He survived, wounded, by lying still on the ground. As he lie there, enemy troops walked by.
“If I’d moved, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now,” the Kokomo veteran told a room full of fellow vets and local officials as part of Howard County’s 2013 Military Appreciation Days opening ceremony Monday.
From the unabashed group singing of the National Anthem to stories from veterans of Vietnam, the Gulf War and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Monday’s gathering was both a kickoff and a display of the patriotism which thrives in the community.
Across Howard County, businesses and service organizations are coming together for nine days and offering a community thanks to veterans like Creason.
Put together by local veterans service organizations, the annual celebration (Nov. 2-11 this year) gives businesses a chance to offer discounts and freebies to vets and a time to assess how well the community is dealing with veterans issues.
Two years ago, the community built a house for a local wounded soldier. This year, a new housing project for homeless veterans, Jackson Street Commons, is getting set to open.
“I am humbled by this community and what they do for vets,” Kokomo Navy Gulf War vet Myles Geary said.
Ross Waltemath, the Howard County Veterans Service Officer, said it’s perhaps natural that Howard County has such a heart for vets, considering the sheer numbers of veterans in the community.
It’s hard, Waltemath said, to know exactly how many Howard County veterans there are, but said his own research indicates there may be more veterans here per capita than any other place in the state.
Officially, there are around 8,000 veterans in a county of 82,000 residents, but potentially another 2,000 veterans from Howard County are officially registered in Indianapolis and Marion because of Veterans Administration services available in those places, Waltemath said.
Monday’s ceremony was also a reminder of those currently serving in the military, with recognition given to the 38th Sustainment Brigade of the Indiana Army National Guard, which recently returned from a deployment to Kuwait.
Lt. Col. Kevin Vedder, the brigade’s deputy commander, recounted the months of active duty, stateside training which led up to the deployment, and then the massive logistical tasks thrown their way in Kuwait, from shipping 280,000 pieces of excess equipment back to the U.S., to providing 120 million gallons of fuel to troops in the Middle East.
At Monday’s event, there was a shared respect expressed between the troops currently serving and the retired veterans, from the Army National Guard troops in uniform to the VFW Post 1152 Military Rites Team, which was on hand for the presentation and retiring of the colors.
“I think about the service, and there was something about getting up every day and tying my boots, “ Waltemath said. “I knew what I was going to do for the day.”
Waltemath said veterans, like those retired members sitting with VFW and DAV garrison caps in the audience, “opened my eyes that service doesn’t have to stop.”
Military Appreciation Days discounts: http://bit.ly/HrVxkO Military Appreciation Days events: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, MADays Bingo Fundraiser, VFW Post 1152 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, STAND DOWN at VFW Post 1152, free meals and checkups for homeless veterans. 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, VFW Post 1152 auction for STAND DOWN and Jackson Street Commons 7 a.m. Saturday, Military Appreciation Days breakfast, Ibn Saud Grotto 11 a.m. Saturday, Hog Runners Ride, kickstands up, Ibn Saud Grotto 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, The USO Show, 1940s Dinner and Show, Continental Ballroom 7 p.m. Sunday, American Legacy Tour fundraiser with Ronnie McDowell, Kokomo High School Auditorium 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Golden Corral and DAV Military Monday, Golden Corral restaurant 1 p.m. Nov. 17, 2nd annual Military Appreciation Days Bowling Tournament, Kokomo Sport Bowl