SOUTH HAVEN | Hundreds gathered Saturday on the 5-acre grounds of American Legion Post 502 to celebrate summer and pay their respects to veterans of all ages.
The fifth annual Veterans Festival, which began Friday night with a concert by country artist Keith Anderson, was in full swing Saturday with more concerts, a beer garden, beanbag games, a horseshoe tournament, a tattoo artist, massage therapy and a gaming tent.
“We thought this would be a nice festival that would be an asset to our community,” said Dick Motsinger, post commander. “And if it makes any money, we could continue to sponsor our veterans programs.”
Motsinger said those programs include the post’s three annual visits to the Indiana Veterans Home in West Lafayette, where the post also hosts an annual fishing derby for residents.
Special guests at Saturday’s festival included five residents of the veterans home.
Motsinger said 67 Patriot Guard motorcycles rode to West Lafayette on Saturday morning to escort the home’s veterans back to the South Haven post for the festival.
The five men were honored with a special tribute on the main stage Saturday afternoon. Festival attendees applauded and cheered as each veteran was presented with a certificate of appreciation by Portage Township Trustee Brendan Clancy and an American Legion “challenge coin” by Motsinger, who thanked them for their service.
Veterans home resident James Spencer, of Indianapolis, was in awe of the event.
“I’ve never seen nothing like this,” said Spencer, who served in the 66th Military Intelligence Group in Germany from 1975 to 1978.
Spencer said the motorcycle escort from West Lafayette to South Haven was “amazing.”
Cheryl Coffman, an employee at the home, said being a part of the festival was an “awesome experience” for the men, many of whom served in Vietnam.
“When they came back, they didn’t get a welcome,” Coffman said. “Some of them don’t get many visitors at the home, so it’s good for them to talk to people and socialize.”
Jim Hall and Marla Jordan, of Wheatfield, were among those in the audience lauding the men.
Hall is adjutant of American Legion Post 440 in DeMotte.
“We’re here to support 502,” Jordan said. “This is a big effort, and we’re all in the same district. It’s a nice turnout and a nice commemoration for the gentleman from IVH. We need more of these.”