Memorial Day celebrations bring reflection, remembrance to the Region

NWI Times

Before gray skies swept over Northwest Indiana on a stormy Memorial Day, hundreds gathered to honor fallen service members, returned veterans and those currently serving in the United States Armed Forces.

From Valparaiso to Portage to Hebron and more, Region residents found their own expressions of remembrance in public parks, outside of museums and in city streets.

At Stoney Run County Park in south Lake County, representatives of American Legion Post 369, the Lake County Parks Board and Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee gathered for a formal service complete with performances by the Wolffgang Choir, a 21-gun salute and cannon volley, and the reading of 15 names of Lake County service members killed in action after September 11.

"Our fallen servicemen and women have selflessly given us the unrivaled privilege to spend our days blessed by freedom and democracy," the Rev. Myndi Whiteside said in her invocation address. "Their own time on this Earth among us cut short, it is our responsibility as Americans to spend our days insuring that their selfless gift in not squandered, nor dishonored."

Whiteside, along with speakers Commander Kevin Urbanczyk of the American Legion and U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., imparted a message of valued time, sacrifice and inclusion among those who have served and are currently serving the United States.

"On the issue of time in our lives, each of us only has so much of it," Visclosky said, sharing updates of his work in Congress to improve veterans' access to medical records when they return from war. "Each veteran here, I want to thank each of you for giving us a portion of your time that you can never get back."

Martin Dzieglowicz, master of ceremonies for the Monday service, noted a physical representation of this. By next Memorial Day, he said, a new monument honoring women service members would be erected in Stoney Run County Park, near the current memorial that names each of the 261 Lake County servicemen killed in the Vietnam War in granite stone.

"They were infiltrating us all over and they did one heck of a job," Dzieglowicz said of women service members.

Outside the Porter County Museum, or PoCo Muse, in Valparaiso, Civil War reenactors of the 9th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment saluted Memorial Day by educating passersby on the history of Porter County's Civil War heroes with a replica recruitment camp on the museum's front lawn.

It was the first year the volunteer infantry regiment brought their stories on Memorial Day to the Porter County Courthouse Square. That's where, 158 years ago, 130 men from across the county met for the first time in the courthouse basement to form a militia unit. Little did they know, two days later, the Battle of Fort Sumter would be fought trusting the country into civil war.

The Porter County group joined the rest of the 9th regiment, traveled to training camps in Valparaiso and Indianapolis, and fought across the county among the top 300 regiments in the Civil War, according to historian Tom Wojcinski.

On Memorial Day, Wojcinski and his son were among the handful of civil war reenactors who manned the recruiting tent outside the museum. For Wojcinski, Memorial Day — or Decoration Day as it was once known — allows an important opportunity for remembrance.

"It was not just the observance of fallen soldiers," Wojcinski said. "It was a day for the remembrance of the people that you lost — loved ones."

Other celebrations in Valparaiso and Portage brought memories of family members who served. Portage residents lined both sides of Central Avenue on Monday afternoon to pay their respects to soldiers of all eras for the city's annual Memorial Day Parade traveling from the old Portage Mall to Calvary Cemetery on Willowdale Road.

In Valparaiso, the city's 13th annual Memorial Day Concert brought performances of "The Star Spangled Banner" and readings of soldiers' letters from the Civil War, World War I and World War II.

Girl Scout Madison Loker, 16, presented the American flag on stage along with the rest of her troop at a full Memorial Opera House in downtown Valparaiso.

"It was very honorable," Loker said.