SCHERERVILLE — Patriotic spirit and gratitude filled the Halls of St. George Wednesday as the 5th Annual Veterans Honor Luncheon saluted the men and women who served in the U.S. military during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and Middle East wars.
“Five years ago we started this luncheon with 200 people. Today we have 750 people including veterans and their guests,” said Kathy Kazmierczak, chairman of the Whiting-based NWI Veterans Action Council that hosted the luncheon.
More than 40 organizations, businesses, unions and political leaders sponsored the free event.
“We tend to think of your service as the date you entered and the date you left the service,” said U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary. However, Visclosky said, long after their discharge, veterans provide support for organizations, including Habitat for Humanity.
Chris Salatas, who represented U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., told veterans that their service “makes us a better country.”
During his salute to veterans, North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan asked female veterans to stand and be recognized.
Mrvan said “the blood, sweat and tears of our brave men and women” changed the U.S. into a global power with freedoms that other nations don’t have.
“This is really something fantastic. I’ve never seen anything this big,” said Joe Buchholz, 84, of Merrillville, who served with the U.S. Army as a Specialist 4th class at a Nike missile site in Renton, Washington, from August 1956 to August 1960.
During Leonard Madsen’s tour of duty with the U.S. Navy from 1951 to 1955, he crossed the Atlantic Ocean a dozen times aboard the USS Pawcatuck, a fueling ship, as a machinist mate first class.
“I’ve been to all of these luncheons,” said the 87-year old Merrillville resident. “One of the greatest things they (NWI Veterans Action Council) have done for veterans is getting all the veterans together. I salute them.”
Hobart resident Molly Bartom, 67, joined the U.S. Navy in 1973 after deciding college wasn’t for her.
“I spent 10 years of active duty in California, Texas, Spain, New Zealand,” said Bartom, who served as a U.S. Navy petty officer.
“This is the third year I’ve come to the luncheon. It’s tremendous,” she said. “It brought tears to my eyes when we were asked to stand up. We (females in the military) never experienced the problems that exist today because we were all one.”
Salutes to veterans also included a large display assembled by Tom Clark, a U.S. history teacher at Lake Central High School, whose students have studied military records of Indiana residents for more than 30 years as part of the Gold Star project.