VALPARAISO | The Folds of Honor Foundation will have fireworks and a concert Aug. 31 in Central Park Plaza to honor first responders and welcome home the Indiana National Guard's 713th engineers company.
The is the second year the organization has held a special observation in downtown Valparaiso as part of a weekend of activities to raise funds for the foundation's scholarships program for the children of those killed or disabled in the line of duty. So far, more than 6,000 scholarships have been awarded.
The welcome home is a little late. Bob Carnegey, local host of the Friends of the Folds of Honor, said the 713th came back from Afghanistan the last week of September 2012, after a year of clearing the roads of bombs and booby traps so it was safe for others to use.
"It's a very stressful job," Spiro Olympidis, who served with the unit in 2005 and 2006 and is a volunteer working on the Labor Day weekend activities, said, "and the Valparaiso unit is a specialty unit for this type of thing."
During its year in Afghanistan, six members were killed and another seriously injured in two separate incidents. Among those killed was Spc. Brian J. Leonhardt, of Merrillville, and Spc. Sergio E. Perez Jr., of Crown Point.
"When we did this last year, we talked to the 713th, and they didn't want to be singled out," Carnegey said. "They wanted to be included with everyone. Police, firefighters, first responders and the 713th all will be honored."
He noted the 713th still hadn't been welcomed home publicly yet.
A 21-gun salute and a concert by the 80-piece Joliet American Legion Band, complete with the singing of the national anthem by Porter County Sheriff Dave Lain, will be featured starting at 7 p.m. with the fireworks to follow at dusk. A flag line will be assembled with members of the Patriot Guard and those attending the event.
The Patriot Guard also will do a motorcycle run covering much of the county earlier in the day to raise money. Activities for the kids are planned, and there will be a beer garden for the adults. The entertainment, a picnic and other activities are free although donations will be solicited.
On Sept. 1 at The Course at Aberdeen, the Patriot Golf Day fundraiser will be held. Participation is $100 per player and includes a picnic dinner. Those who just want to take part in the picnic can do so at $10 for adults and $5 for children. To register, call The Course at Aberdeen, (219) 462-5050, or Carnegey, (219) 548-9825.
"We really do want to honor these young men, who are heroes," Carnegey said. "They don't think of themselves as heroes, but they were called on to do a very dangerous mission, and they need to be shown the proper respect for what they had to do for a year."