Goshen News, Goshen, IN

July 8, 2013

10th annual Celebrate America festival honors Korean War veterans

By SCOTT WEISSER
THE GOSHEN NEWS

GOSHEN — The strains of “Stars and Stripes Forever” rang out over Black Squirrel Golf Course.

The music Sunday night was courtesy of the Baltimore, Md.-based Exalt Brass ensemble, performing on stage in front of a banner bearing the words, “America...Home of the Free, Because of the Brave.”

On the Black Squirrel grounds, some children played catch or held fast to helium-filled balloons. Adults staked out small patches of earth with their chairs, perhaps looking forward to the fireworks show later that evening.

Sunday marked the 10th annual show organized by the local Celebrate America non-profit group. Spectators gathered on or around Black Squirrel could expect to see — and hear — around $20,000 worth of fireworks blown up in the span of a half-hour.

Before the pyrotechnics, though, there was a time to pay respect.

In keeping with tradition, veterans were honored during the Celebrate America event. This year, local Korean War-era veterans were given special recognition. The audience honored them with a standing ovation as the veterans gathered on stage.

Gary Whitehead was among those who ventured to Black Squirrel Sunday to show his support. Whitehead was in the U.S. Navy from 1966 to 1986, and is a former veterans’ service officer. Count him as enthusiastic about Celebrate America’s efforts.

“I think this is one of the greatest things for northern Indiana, to support our country,” Whitehead said. He pointed out that Al Lane started the event 10 years ago.

“Where it’s gone...is just amazing,” Whitehead said. “It’s just a great day.”

Also attending Sunday’s pre-fireworks concert and ceremony was Delores Dye of Dunlap. Dye said she’s been to every Celebrate America showcase; last year’s was canceled due to hot and dry conditions.

“It’s a nice, family-oriented event,” she said.

A recurring theme before the fireworks was that Celebrate America is about much more than fireworks. Celebrate America president Greg Lanzen outlined the group’s educational outreach — and referenced the message on the stage banner.

“We don’t want our children here in Goshen to ever forget that,” he said. “We want to make sure they learn it. They’re being taught it in schools, but we’re trying to reinforce it.”

Lanzen, a pastor, also offered a prayer Sunday.

“Father, we seek to honor our veterans,” he said. “They have served their country faithfully, and they have served you faithfully.” He also prayed for protection for service personnel in harm’s way today.

Among the veterans in attendance Sunday was Mike Tolor of Goshen. A Vietnam veteran who served in 1970-71, Tolor wore a shirt bearing a flag and the word “America.” The Celebrate America event? He’s a fan.

“It’s a good way to celebrate what it’s all about,” he said.