MARC CHASE: Help foster region's proudest of traditions

2014-04-17T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: Help foster region's proudest of traditionsMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
April 17, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Military volunteerism is one of the proudest traditions permeating region and state history since Indiana's infancy.

It's also a reminder we should be doing everything within our means to celebrate, support and make whole veterans of military service — particularly those who've seen combat.

Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Indiana is looking for our help in filling a need for some local, selfless warriors. Anyone financially able should consider giving.

So many question the positive attributes of Indiana and particularly our northwestern corner.

But one of our proudest traditions began in 1861, when then Indiana Gov. Oliver P. Morton and Adjutant General Lew Wallace began amassing what would become one of the most impressive volunteer wartime recruitment efforts in our nation's history. About 200,000 Hoosiers — including hundreds from Northwest Indiana — volunteered to fight in what would become our nation's bloodiest conflict, the Civil War.

Those numbers put a relatively young, then western frontier, state on the map as the state with the second highest percentage contribution of its population to the Civil War effort.

Last week, Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, who heads the Indiana Army National Guard, noted the proud tradition born 150 years ago continues today. The general pointed out Indiana is fourth highest in the nation for National Guard participation.

Umbarger was keynoting a breakfast benefit for the region's Habitat for Humanity Veterans Build program, which seeks to construct affordable homes for local veterans and their families.

During his speech, Umbarger noted the palpable patriotism he feels when attending veterans' events in Northwest Indiana. The history of that patriotism — and how it thrives today — is hands down what makes me most proud of our region.

Visit an old pioneer cemetery in Lake, Porter or LaPorte counties, and you'll see the evidence. Places like Historic Maplewood Cemetery in Crown Point, Maplewood and Union Street cemeteries in Valparaiso, Salem Cemetery in Hebron and Oak Hill Cemetery in Hammond are collectively scattered with hundreds of headstones belonging to region Civil War veterans.

From this state's inception, Hoosiers have answered their nation's call. But our nation hasn't always returned the favor.

I've written before about Merrillville's Israel Pierce, a Civil War veteran who hanged himself after the war following two decades of unsuccessfully petitioning the federal government for a disability pension.

Umbarger noted the chilly — even hostile — reception so many Vietnam War veterans received upon returning from the politically unpopular conflict.

Though the scope of programs and services has improved since then, today's combat veterans continue to come home with serious challenges, including finding affordable homes for their families.

I urge anyone financially able to contribute to the the Habitat for Humanity Veterans Build and other veteran assistance programs. Think of it as an investment in our region's proudest of traditions.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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