By JENNIFER MEIER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
MIDDLEBURY — Guests speakers at the Middlebury American Legion Post 210 annual dusk to dawn vigil at Grace Lawn Cemetery reads like a who’s who list in Indiana government.
As the sun sets on Sunday, and the headstones of 384 veterans are illumined by Starlights of Honor, Rep. Jackie Walorski, state Sen. Carlin Yoder and state Rep. Wes Culver, as well as Richard Jewell, state commander of the American Legion, will all share their thoughts on the holiday.
The real who’s who of the evening’s ceremony are the veterans — those who have fallen in battle and those who have served or are still serving their country.
One veteran in particular will be singled out during the vigil.
The small flat marker that once indicated the grave of Cpl. Mark L. Wilt, the post’s namesake, will now lie under the shadow of large, shiny memorial depicting Wilt’s face.
“He gave the ultimate sacrifice on Nov. 5, 1918, just six days before the end of the war — The War to End All Wars,” said post member Steve Rathka.
Beginning at 8 p.m. the American Legion (motorcycle) Riders will lead a procession, including a parade float carrying the speakers and Legion members to Grace Lawn Cemetery on East Warren Street.
“This ninth annual vigil and Memorial Day festivities are really the biggest events of the year for the post,” said Middlebury Post Commander Jack Cook. “We usually have between 250 to 300 people attending the vigil throughout the evening.”
After the unveiling and dedication of the Wilt memorial and the speeches by Yoder and Walorski, visitors can consult their programs to locate and visit any of the 384 illumined headstones of local veterans.
“Each guest will be presented with an American flag pin as a thank you from us for touring Grace Lawn,” Cook said.
The idea for the new memorial was conceived and implemented under the direction of former Post Commander Charles Hostetler, Cook said.
“Neil Stewart of Miller-Stewart Funeral Home here in Middlebury agreed to create the stone,” Cook said. “They did such a fantastic job.”
Stewart will present the certificate of ownership to the Post who will then present it to the town of Middlebury.
“This has been a great community project,” Stewart said. “This Post in Middlebury is super-active. They are so good to the veterans and their families and the community. My wife is part of the Auxiliary and her grandfather is a Navy veteran of World War II — so this has special meaning.”
Stewart and Cook also commended Middlebury Superintendent of Public Works Tim O’Dell for his part in the project.
“The employees donated their time and efforts to moving the existing marker and creating a new foundation for the memorial,” O’Dell said.
Most of the ceremony will take place on the north side of the cemetery. On the south side near the sexton’s building, lights and crosses will commemorate those killed in action.
Post guards including a guard marching the 21 steps by the white crosses will remain at the Grace Lawn throughout night until the dawn of Memorial Day.
The Post Color Guard will march the following morning in a parade down Main Street beginning at 10 a.m. The Northridge Raider Marching Band, also part of the parade, will perform at Memorial Park following the festivities.
Active Duty Captain Ted. J. Behncke Jr. of Aberdeen, Md., is the featured speaker for the program. Behncke is in his ninth year of service and is veteran of two tours in Iraq, one as a member of the 501st Infantry Parachute Regiment. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Army Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster as well as other decorations and citations.
Immediately following the ceremony, post members will march to Grace Lawn where the all the names of fallen veterans will be read. A memorial wreath will be placed on the Wilt memorial.
At the conclusion of the reading of the war roster, members of the post will fire a volley in salute to those who served and passed on. Then it will end with taps.