MERRILLVILLE | Generations of veterans, current military personnel and families gathered amid a sea of flags Sunday at Calumet Park Cemetery to honor men and women in uniform who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Sponsored by the American Legion 1st District, the annual Memorial Day program in the cemetery’s veterans' section also was a rallying cry to help those military service members who have returned from America’s wars with “grievous physical and mental injuries,” said U.S Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville.
“We need to attack the backlog of 600,000 cases at the Veterans Administration who are clearly in need of assistance,” Visclosky said, citing the number of military personnel and veterans who commit suicide every day.
“We need to keep them in our thoughts and prayers and remember that we continue to be a nation at war,” he said.
Remembering those who fought and died for their country shouldn’t be a once-at-year event, said Richard Jewell, Indiana American Legion department commander, who served in Vietnam and saw a friend die on the battlefield.
“Each of us has our list, and our memories of their last moments. We mourn what they could have been,” Jewell said. “The best thing we can do is to live the life they never got to.”
Families of those who serve also make sacrifices, said Nancy Gunning, president of the Indiana American Legion Auxiliary.
“All of us have been touched because we have had members of our family in military service,” Gunning said. “We celebrate our fallen heroes not just today, but every day.”
During his keynote address, the Rev. Fred Hoover, of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Portage, said remembering those who have sacrificed everything for the American way of life means passing that information on to young generations.
“We need to take up that challenge, that mission, if you will, that our kids know what this day is about,” Hoover said. “I don’t want to see it (Memorial Day) become just another three-day holiday, not National BBQ Day.”
Greg Spaulding, commander of the Indiana Sons of the American Legion Detachment, reminded those gathered that “the price of freedom is not cheap.” Some 430,000 U.S. troops have been killed in battle since World War I, he said.
“That’s the entire population of Lake and Porter counties together,” Spaulding said.
For the sixth year, Merrillville High School’s symphonic band played a series of patriotic songs and the anthems for every branch of the U.S. military. Seventy band members participated in the program under the baton of Director of Bands Mark Danielson.
Merrillville’s American Legion Post 430 offered a rifle firing salute, and the staff of Calumet Park Cemetery provided a gun aerial salute. Three wreaths were placed at the Veterans Memorial during the service.