(Photo by Tom Strattman)

Hoosiers honor Blue, Gold Star families

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On June 15, the eighth annual Indiana Blue Star Salute event was held at Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg, Ind., to honor and support families of the men and women who are currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Volunteers and American Legion posts throughout central Indiana, including Avon Post 145 (home of the Indiana Blue Star Salute), Brownsburg Post 331, Pittsboro Post 426, Plainfield Post 329 and Danville Post 118, worked together to make the event a success.

"This (Blue Star Salute) is very dear to my heart," said John Tidd, a volunteer from Brownsburg, Ind., whose son is in the Indiana National Guard. "It’s a great cause and something that I can give personally because I didn’t serve (in the military)."

Before the event started, military families had an opportunity to meet cheerleaders from the Indianapolis Colts and Pacers, as well as mascots from all four Indiana sports franchises (Colts, Pacers, Indians and Ice). Attendees then were greeted by 350 motorcyclists, such as Legion Riders, Patriot Guard Riders and Rolling Thunder, who participated in the Ride to the Salute and raised $3,500 for the Legion’s Legacy Scholarship Fund. The riders were escorted by members of local police departments, as well as a Huey 563 — an air ambulance used during the Vietnam War.

Legion Rider and Post 145 member Frank "Cowboy" McFarland rode with a Gold Star flag that had the names embroidered on it of the 204 men and women from Indiana who have lost their lives since Sept. 11, 2001. McFarland presented the flag to Janice and Don Schauwecker of Avon, Ind., on stage during the Gold Star family ceremony. The Schauwecker’s son, Staff Sgt. Richard Blakley, was killed in Iraq on June 6, 2006. The special Gold Star flag will be on display through the coming year at the Indiana War Memorial in downtown Indianapolis.

McFarland has been involved with the Indiana Blue Star Salute event for the past seven years because "I know what my family went through when I spent two years overseas, and I have a son-in-law who has been deployed twice to Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "So I understand what these families are going through, and I understand what the veterans are facing when they come back. Anything I can do to help them, I will. I served my time wearing green, and I’m still doing it wearing black."

Attendees kept their focus in the sky as three skydivers individually parachuted with U.S., POW/MIA and Blue Star Banner flags.

Following the excitement in the air, remarks were provided by Indiana Department Commander Richard Jewell, Chief of the Joint Staff for the Indiana National Guard and Indiana Blue Star Committee Chairman Ralph "Zoc" Zoccolillo.

"This event is to assist those families whose loved ones are in harm’s way. We are here for you," Zoccolillo said. "All year-round, this event is for you."