Jeri Scott of Mooresville, Ind., had tears in her eyes as she rubbed a replica of her husband's dog tag and listened to country music star Michael Peterson perform on stage at Stout Field, home of the Indiana Army National Guard in Indianapolis. She and her 12-year-old daughter Makayla were among more than 300 military families registered for the Sixth Annual Indiana Blue Star Salute on Saturday, June 18.
"It's wonderful to be here around so many military families and this support network," she said. "It touches my heart."Her husband Bobby is in Iraq serving in the U.S. Army Reserve, 310th Expeditionary Sustainment Command. The Scotts and military families from across central Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois and as far away as Texas and Pennsylvania were treated to an afternoon of gratitude, coordinated by a committee composed mainly of central Indiana American Legion members.Activities included music, dance performances, speeches, appearances by the Indianapolis Colts cheerleaders, parachuting and a massive caravan of motorcycle-riding veterans, many of them American Legion Riders. A vintage Vietnam War Huey helicopter led the motorcycle caravan to Stout Field.Maj. Gen. Martin Umbarger, adjutant general of the Indiana Army National Guard, gazed across a sea of leather-clad veterans in attendance and acknowledged the unique connection between those who served in the Vietnam War and those who have fought in the war on terror.He told the Vietnam veterans how much he appreciated their attention to the newest generation of veterans, especially given the poor welcome many who fought in Southeast Asia received when they came home. "You're here protecting the families, and we weren't there for you," he said. "We love all of you."Maj. Gen. Umbarger received a special Gold Star Banner with the names of 178 Hoosiers who lost their lives serving their country since 9/11. He received the banner while standing next to two beams from the World Trade Center, draped in a U.S. flag, that were recovered after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and will be used in a special monument in Indianapolis. "The feelings I have ... to accept this... words, quite frankly, have left me. (9/11) is the event in our lives that we will never forget."The banner will be displayed at the Indiana War Memorial for the next year.Indiana Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman described her pride for those who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and for the patriotism displayed by Hoosiers. "Indiana is, indeed, a state of patriots," she said, telling the military families that they are "the unpaid soldiers who care for our men and women in uniform. I know it is not an easy life. But it is a worthy one."As her daughter huddled close to her, Jeri Scott explained what an event like the Indiana Blue Star Salute means to a family with a loved one in harm's way. "It means more than people realize. You feel like you're all alone until you come to an event like this."The Indiana Blue Star Salute has grown from a gathering of about 50 military families in a park outside Indianapolis to a major, multi-state day of recognition. More than 1,500 motorcyclists had registered for the "Ride to the Salute" caravan and, although threatening weather kept many of them from participating, event organizer Ralph Zoccolillo was delighted by the turnout and the way the Salute came together. "Every year, the thing we keep saying is that it's going to be even bigger and better next year," he told the crowd. "Well, what do you think? Next year, will be even bigger and better."Among those in attendance were American Legion Past National Commanders Thomas Cadmus of Michigan and Robert Spanogle of Indianapolis. Former American Legion National Legislative Commission Chairman Jim Koutz of Indiana was also on hand and spoke to the families. Spanogle, past national adjutant of The American Legion National Headquarters, and Paul Allen, past national finance director of The American Legion, have been actively involved in the event since its inception.