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CROWN POINT — Arthur Eugene "Geno" Ward's hands trembled Saturday as he opened a box to examine a long-overdue medal he earned while serving in the Korean War as a Marine.

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky presented the 85-year-old Merrillville man with a Commendation Medal with Valor as part of the fifth annual Hometown Heroes event, which included a charity motorcycle run and awards ceremony.

"I was up there with tears in my eyes," said Ward, who also serves as a Merrillville police commissioner and precinct committeeman. "My heart was going 90 mph."

All proceeds from this year's Hometown Heroes event will go to Crown Point Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 176 and the nonprofit Protecting K9 Heroes, which was selected by community members, founder Pete Dragojevich said.

The Hometown Heroes board had not yet tallied up this year's proceeds, but the group raised $18,000 to $20,000 during last year's event, he said.

Last year's proceeds went to the Crown Point FOP Lodge and the Northwest Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, which used the money to purchase new equipment.

"That's what this is all about," said Dragojevich, who works as a K-9 instructor for Blue Warrior Tactics and serves on the Lake County sheriff's Police Merit Board.

The event has grown bigger each year, though the threat of rain Saturday put a damper on the number of riders.

"We are showing our love and support for all first responders," he said.

Besides Ward, awards were given to Sgt. Jim Poling and Cpl. Robert Ballas, of the Crown Point Police Department, and Sgt. Brian Mallard, of Indiana State Police. 

Johnny Boersma, president of the nonprofit Mission One, offered words of support to Ward after he received his medal.

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Ward said he worked in mines and demolitions in Korea, and he earned the medal of commendation for valor for blowing up bridges.

"They said we only had one way out," he said. "I was out in a boat in a flood."

He had to blow up the bridges to prevent them from destroying another bridge the Marines needed to exit the area, he said.

Ward said he didn't initially receive his medal because officials mistakenly thought he served in the Vietnam War.

Boersma said he was raised by a Marine with post-traumatic stress disorder, but he didn't understand his father's condition as a child.

"I thought he was just angry," he said.

Mission One's motto is, "a veteran's battle never ends," he said. 

"We'll do anything we can to help a veteran and improve their life," he said.

Mission One helps veterans with resources, counseling, donations and more.

U.S. Navy veteran Stacey Ojeda, of Hobart, arrived at the park on one of more than 60 motorcycles to participate in a charity run.

"I always support our first responders," she said. "They work hard, and at least half of them are veterans, too."

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