"We are reminded of those who gave their young lives so that liberty might grow old."
—Daniel Wheeler, national adjutant of The American Legion
Hundreds gathered at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument at noon today for the 500 Festival Memorial Service, a tribute to fallen military personnel hailing from Indiana. In the past year alone, 13 Hoosiers have died in combat.
>> See a full photo gallery of the event and local and national leaders here.
Perhaps most stirring were the words of Brenda Wilson, a Gold Star mother who lost her son Bryan in December 2004 during Operation Iraqi Freedom: "When you lose a son or daughter in wartime, as opposed to other deaths, it's not worse or more important. It's just different."
The service took on a starkly different tone from the rest of this weekend's Indianapolis 500 festivities. The 38th Division Band and the Capital City Chorus bookended the event with musical performances, and the band's Captain Lisa Kopczynski sang "The Star-Spangled Banner." 2012 500 Queen Taylor Adams participated in a solemn portion of the program in which three wreaths were placed on the Monument's north steps by Gold Star wives, mothers, and children. After a U.S. Marine Corps rifle salute and two musical pieces, an A-10 Missing Man Formation flew over onlookers, conducted by the Indiana National Guard Blacksnakes.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard (a former Marine), Governor Mitch Daniels, and Admiral James A. Winnefeld, Jr., the nation's second-highest ranking military officer, all spoke. Excerpts from their remarks here:
Mayor Ballard: "Common to all of these generations [of servicepeople] is the reality that some do not come back to continue life as we know it."
Gov. Daniels: "There's an Asian proverb that says, 'When an old person dies, a library closes.' I visited my library, Byron Croshere ... My pastor, he married [Indiana First Lady] Cheri and me ... He was a man whose motto was always 'Match 'em, hatch 'em, and dispatch 'em ... He was one of the first wounded at and evacuated from Iwo Jima."
Admiral Winnefeld, Jr.: Americans comprise "a grateful nation ... as the longest wars in our nation's history draw to a close."