Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

June 17, 2013

Blue Star Salute honors military vets and their families

Wade Coggeshall

— The eighth annual Indiana Blue Star Salute wasn’t just an opportunity to thank military veterans for their service, but the sacrifices made by their families as well.

“Just as sure as I’m standing here, the families serve too,” said Richard Jewell, commander of the Indiana American Legion. “When I was a young man in Vietnam, I didn’t realize what my parents were going through during the almost two years I was on the ground (there).”

He does now. As Jewell noted to those gathered for this year’s salute, he and his wife (an Army vet just like him) raised three children who all served. They weathered many deployments over the years.

Indeed, as Indiana National Guard Brig. Gen. Brian Copes said, only 9 percent of the U.S. population since World War II has served in the military. But there are plenty of people who have sacrificed on their behalf.

“They’re the ones who wait, wonder, and worry about their loved ones deployed in harm’s way,” Copes said. “We in the uniform are often given the spotlight to stand in, even though we don’t seek it. The real heroes are those who stand just outside that spotlight and quietly cheer us on.”

This year’s Blue Star Salute was conducted in conjunction with the Slamology car show and music festival at Lucas Oil Raceway. Ralph “Zoc” Zoccolillo, chair of the Blue Star Salute Committee, always promises the event will be bigger and better the next time. With the help of the multi-day Slamology, he thinks he made good.

“They’ve been a phenomenal partner,” said Zoccolillo, who also thanked his committee and the many volunteers who help make the salute possible.

“This is something we’re very proud of. I’ve never worked with a more dedicated group of people. We plan months in advance to get this thing off the ground.”

This year’s Blue Star Salute had all its trademarks. More than 350 motorcyclists from the American Legion Riders, Patriot Guard Riders, U.S. Military Vets Motorcycle Club, and others rode from Harley Davidson West in Plainfield to the track. In the process they raised $3,200 for the American Legion’s Legacy Fund, which awards scholarships to children of vets killed in action.

Mascots and cheerleaders from the Colts, Pacers, Fever, and Indians were on hand. Walt Gadowski flew the T-28 trainer airplane he restored over the proceedings, while three parachutists dropped in with flags.

Vicki Murphy, a former member of the Army Reserves and current spokesperson for the Brownsburg Community School Corporation, gave a brief history of the Blue Star while serving as emcee for the event. The Blue Star banner started during World War I. People displayed it in their homes to signify a loved one was serving in the military. The tradition faded after the Second World War, then made a big comeback after 9/11.

“You started seeing it in homes again all over the place, largely due to the efforts of the American Legion,” Murphy said. “They made it available to military families.”

A Gold Star indicates a relative killed in service. A Gold Star flag was showcased at the event. It was embroidered with the names of all 204 vets from Indiana killed in action since 9/11.

Zoccolillo closed the proceedings by honoring Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson with the Blue Star Appreciation Award. Lawson has been part of the salute since it started in 2006 at Avon-Washington Township Park.

“I’ve had the pleasure of attending all these events,” she said. “It’s never felt like it’s part of my job. I’ve always been here because I want to be. It brings attention to our military and their families, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Visit the website IndianaBlueStar.org for more information.