Nearly 16 years ago, American Legion Post 145 in Avon, Ind., had two members and was in the process of turning in its chapter. Now, there are 1,000 members strong between the post, Auxiliary unit and Sons of The Amerian Legion squadron. A big part of the post’s revitalization started about 10 years ago when the post resurrected its Indiana Blue Star Salute program.
The post held its first local event to honor families of U.S. servicemembers in the summer of 2006 that drew 55 families from the community. The following year, neighboring posts got involved, and the Indiana Blue Star Salute reached out to a multi-county region. Today, the June event in Indianapolis attracts hundreds of military families from Indiana and beyond.
“It’s something we are really be proud of,” said Ralph “Zoc” Zoccolillo, Indiana Blue Star Salute Committee chairman and member of Post 145. “Once we saw how successful the salute was in one town, we realized how many military families there are around the state. We are a post that does so much for our community.”
Six central Indiana American Legion posts and their American Legion Riders chapters work together to raise funds from corporate sponsors to help military families throughout Indiana and nearby states. Members of those posts, their Legion Riders chapters, Auxiliary units and Sons of The American Legion squadrons serve on the Indiana Blue Star Committee and each year the event has generated no less than $10,000 for the Legion’s Legacy Scholarship Fund, which provides college assistance for the children of military personnel who lost their lives on duty since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The Indiana Blue Star Salute program honors military families beyond the month of June. For example, on Dec. 20, the Indiana Blue Star Committee and Post 145 gave 16 Indiana National Guard families a “Spirit of Christmas” event to remember. Nearly 200 Christmas presents wrapped in pink, green and blue camouflage paper filled a stage flanked by lit Christmas trees and wreaths at the Hendricks Country Fairgrounds in Danville, Ind.
The 45 children of the military families - who were identified as in need this holiday season by the Indiana National Guard family assistance program - didn’t unwrap their gifts until Santa Claus arrived at the fairgrounds, which he did by way of a Vietnam War Huey helicopter. “This is all about the kids,” Zoccolillo said. “These kids wished for certain presents, and they got them.”
The Indiana Blue Star Committee and the post raised more than $8,000 in less than two months to purchase presents and to provide a catered lunch to the families. A local Yamaha store sponsored the Huey, and Marsh grocery store in Avon provided hams for each family to take home. “This is what the Legion is supposed to do. A lot of generous people made this event happen,” said Richard Culp, commander of Post 145.
The presents consisted of children’s toys and electronics such as televisions, laptops, Xbox’s and Playstation 3’s. Each family was called individually on stage to take a photo with Santa and to receive their gifts.
The event was such a success, bringing joy to many military families this holiday season, that Post 145 “will continue to host the ‘Spirit of Christmas’ for our military families,” Zoc said.