2017 Keating Competition
First Place: Jack Evans – Indiana University
First they just asked men to go into the tunnels, to volunteer to head into the dank Vietnam earth. To take the nickname “tunnel rat.” It seemed like everyone had an excuse for why they couldn’t.
Moe Henderson was none of the above, and so into the tunnels he went. Sometimes he came face-to-face with an enemy soldier, and he did what he had to do. He’d promised his mama he’d come home after a year, and he never lied to his mama.
Sometimes, instead of soldiers, he’d find ammunition or medical supplies. Booby traps scared him more than soldiers. Spiders scared him the most.
He still remembers how it smelled down there, earthy and moldy, like the foundation of a flooded house.
But here, five decades later, the air smells only of cigarettes and, toward the back of the building, Craig Carr’s beef stew with hot peppers. Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2839: elbows on the bar, Jell-O shots for a dollar, “Members Only” sign in the front window.
The tunnel rat, now a 68-year-old post commander, sits at the bar, a pack of Winstons tucked in the pocket of his camouflage jacket.
Three-and-a-half miles away, streets are blocked off for the Veterans Day Parade. The men here — mostly Vietnam War veterans in their 60s and 70s — have walked in their fair share of parades. But those things start to bleed together in memory after a while, and some of their bodies don’t agree with the cold weather anymore, and so they have decided to spend the day inside, with men who speak the same language.
Sitting at the bar, Rick Faulk — who joined the Air Force at 17, rather than wait around to get drafted into Vietnam — says something about an airstrike, and it sparks something in Carr’s memory. The stew-maker retrieves a box of photos he took during the war. Here’s him holding a monkey, a Pabst Blue Ribbon gripped in one hand. Here’s that hazy airstrike photo he recalled, napalm clouding the horizon.
“You don’t got any of the gooks, do ya?” Faulk, 70, asks. Carr flips through the photos and finds one of a Vietnamese soldier dead on the sand. He points out the places where fish had nibbled away at the flesh.
And here is a photo of Carr’s best friend, a New York City guy killed May 2, 1968. Carr has on his person the friend’s prayer card, laminated. He carries it with him every Veterans Day.
The human toll of war bonds these men. Of the 80 or so kids in Faulk’s graduating class and the one below, 28 went to Vietnam. Twenty-seven came back. A sniper’s bullet killed one friend, two weeks before he was set to come home.
Things were different when they came home. Guns and fear had turned them from boys to men. Faulk returned in the winter, and his tan marked him as a target for protesters who spit at him or yelled, “Baby killer!” He grew out his hair and beard. He reconnected with his high-school girlfriend, who had become an anti-war activist, and tagged along to one protest.
“Her friends and me didn’t get along,” he says. “They wanted to smoke dope, and I wanted to drink Budweiser.”
Over time, the men noticed what havoc war wreaked inside them. Faulk has diabetes. Henderson beat stage-three prostate cancer. Doctors linked both their diseases to Agent Orange exposure.
And for years, Henderson’s primary care doctor urged him to see a psychiatrist. He always said no, and the doctor always kept asking, and Henderson eventually reasoned that going would at least get the doctor off his back. The psychiatrist told him he had post-traumatic stress disorder. Now he sees a social worker once a week and realizes how angry he was before.
By noon, people flow into the building at a steady pace, veterans and their wives and children ready for lunch. By day’s end, two or three hundred people will come through, Faulk guesses. Carr breaks from the kitchen to retrieve a bucket of ice and Miller Lite from the bar. The hot pepper beef stew has simmered nearly enough.
“It’s called five-hour stew,” he says. “But this is more of a 10-to-20-hour stew.”
“It might burn your lips off,” Vietnam vet Don Jessee laughs, as he snaps photos of the room on a tablet.
For a long time, Carr says, this VFW didn’t do much for Veterans Day other than serve cups of chili for the five or six guys who showed up. Fifteen years ago, this lunch started, and now people drive from out of town for it, for a once-a-year reunion with decades-old friends.
“Hey, guys,” Carr calls. “Ron, you want to say a few words so we can get our chow line moving?”
Another Vietnam veteran, Ron McCann, says a quick prayer, but the buffet stays clear when he finishes. People linger in their circles, reluctant to break conversations. Nobody seems in much of a hurry.
The room still smells like stew, but they came for much more than that.
Second Place: Madison Dudley – DePauw University
“You know you don't feel particularly safe because you don’t have your brothers or sisters to watch your back,” Shepherd said of his adjustment to civilian life. “Being in active combat and seeing the things that you do and doing the things that you have to do, it's hard to come back home from that.”
For Shepherd, the biggest challenge has been realizing he is no longer in a combat zone. One of the difficulties of coming home was remembering to drive on the side of the road instead of straight down the middle. That was required when he was in Iraq because bombs were normally planted on the sides of the roads.
His trip to the Indianapolis Veterans Parade on Saturday was more about honoring those who served before him instead of praising himself and those who fought with him.
The veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, in particular, are important to Shepard. "(They) made it possible for me to serve my country, made it possible for me to live in this country and be free, for my family to be free," he said.
Across East Michigan Street, squinting at the World War 1 memorial alone in the grassy field surrounding Obelisk Square stands Robert Whitson and his service dog, Kimmie.
“Dealing with people in crowds is hard, that's why I'm standing back here,” Whitson said as he took a drag from his cigarette and tightened his hand on Kimmie’s leash. The young black lab was clad in a military green service vest. Her tail wagging and curiosity a sharp contrast to the somber aura surrounding her owner.
His eyes were pale and slightly glossed over, with dark circles under his lids. Whitson left the army last year, after 16 years of service starting when he was 18. He joined straight out of high school because he had nothing else going on. “It was pretty last minute,” he said.
Whitson is 34 and classified as 100% disabled by the VA. He moved to Indiana from Kentucky after being discharged. He wanted a change in atmosphere, and so far, he likes it.
He went to both Iraq and Afghanistan and did mainly infantry work. “Did a lot of recon, clearing cities, kicked doors in, all the fun stuff,” he spoke in a tone indicating he did not find it fun. “We were the first ones there. We had to make sure it was safe for everybody else to go in.”
Open about his post-traumatic stress, Whitson expressed the need for him to be present today, even though he personally finds Veterans Day a challenging holiday to celebrate. “I’ve lost a couple great friends. I think this day represents them as well.”
Over 40 motorcycle riding veterans, all wearing large leather jackets with American flag patches sewn into the arms, stood on North Pennsylvania Street waiting for the start of the parade.
Don Beabout walked the parade route bundled up as if he was heading on an arctic exhibition. Carrying two bags full of snacks, he made conversation with any person who showed him a smile.
Beabout is a US Navy veteran but only served for a year in 1976, having to leave the military because of illness. Since then, he has worked on and off with the US government, specifically with the Army Corp. of Engineers.
He has no children, is not married, and both of his parents have passed away. Beabout has decided to dedicate his time and energy to promoting positivity among others, in almost a manic fashion.
He posted feverishly on Facebook over the last three days about the importance of Veterans Day and his commitment to bringing positivity to all, encouraging others to do the same during the holiday.
“I am with my own organization, it’s called the battle to wipe out all negativity,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m the chief officer. I’m the general. I'm the admiral.”
Whitson finished his cigarette, not having moved from his spot in the grass since he got there.
Beabout walked through the cars lined up, revving their engines waiting for the start of the parade. He hands out Welch's Fruit Snacks and fist-bumps the drivers.
Shepherd looked at his daughters in their wagon, smiles on their faces and American flags in their hands. He spoke quietly, but with conviction, “I want them to grow up knowing that people fought and died so they could have this life.”
Two blond toddlers sit in a red wagon at the bottom of the Indiana World War I memorial steps. The little girls are decked out in red, white and blue, their cheeks rosy from the cold. They snack on Nutri Grain granola bars and sway to the music of the Indiana National Guard 38th district band. They pause only to smile at the stoic figure looming over them.
Robert Shepherd, former Specialist E-4 in the United States Army, stands solid, arms crossed, wearing his army jacket, tinted sunglasses. His salt and pepper stubble surrounds the straight line that is his mouth, as he surveys the Veterans day parade route in concentrated silence over his daughters.
Shepherd served two tours abroad during his time with the Army, in Iraq between 2003-2004 and in Afghanistan between 2008-2009. Encouraged by his father and uncle, who were both members of the United States Army, Shepherd decided to enlist at the age of 29 before it was too late.
Currently, he works at the Marion County Sheriff's office in the jail, a job he had before his deployment. Despite his civilian life remaining relatively the same, Shepherd said he was not the same man when he returned home.
Third Place: Taylor Telford – Indiana University
The city bustled with events in their honor, but they just wanted a quiet meal at Hooters.
On Veterans Day, as more than 80 units of their comrades donned uniforms and readied to march through the frigid streets, dozens of veterans found sanctuary beneath the neon signs and glowing televisions. Some wore markers of their service with pride — baseball caps with army insignias, pins and patches sewn to Carhartt jackets. Others dressed like ordinary civilians, bundled in overalls and Colts gear and plaid button-ups.
“Freedom isn’t free,” read the table-toppers, bearing military font and a bombshell-blonde in a sassy salute. “But all military eat free on Saturday November 11.”
This day was meant to be celebratory. Around the country, cities came alive with monuments to service and little gestures of gratitude for members of the armed forces — free haircuts at Great Clips, free drinks in bars, parades in the streets and special meals in nursing homes. But for some of those who should be at center of the celebration, the day was void of joy. Instead, it was full of longing for the ones they’d lost and the lives they’d left behind.
For a restaurant known for raunch and raucousness, the atmosphere in Hooters was decidedly tame. College football hummed on the televisions. Joan Jett gave a muted howl from speakers in the background. Beneath the glow of neon signs, patrons spoke in low-voices and referred to their shorts-sporting, glitter-dusted waitresses as miss and ma’am.
Behind the bar, Kourtney Robinson waited anxiously, thrown into her first-ever Hooters bartending shift. She fidgeted in her skin-tight tank top, that proclaimed “We salute our troops” in camo print across her chest. She tugged her shorts and straightened the bottles of flavored Smirnoff and Jack Daniel’s.
Her parents, both veterans, were heading up from Bloomington to see her in action and claim their free meals. Her mother spent more than 20 years in the National Guard.
“She got in it before I was born, then stayed to support me,” Robinson said, signing her name in sloping letters with a shimmering silver sharpie on napkins and handing them out to customers. Her father was in the Air Force was she was little, then became a stay-at-home-dad.
“He thinks he’s a veteran,” she said. “But he didn’t really do anything. We called it ‘The Cheer Force.’”
When her mother left for tours in the National Guard, Robinson was home alone with her father in fifth and sixth grade. It was like Disneyland compared to her mother’s strict rules — she and her dad ate Tyson chicken nuggets and guzzled Coca-Cola. They ate seafood, which her mother despised, and stayed up late.
Robinson’s mother transferred her GI Bill her to her so she could go to college at IU, where she studies biology. She knows she couldn’t have afforded it any other way.
As Robinson, 21, milled anxiously behind the counter, waiting to pour her first real cocktail, a smattering of veterans dropped into the barstools. They listened as she rattled off beers and cocktails, but all declined, responding with polite variations of “I don’t drink,” and ordering sodas.
Brian Crowder sat alone in an Army baseball cap and an American flag T-shirt. On this day of celebration, all he wanted was to avoid the crowds and enjoy his free boneless Parmesan wings in peace.
He removed his hat and ran a beefy hand over his bald head, eyes welling as the national anthem played before the Michigan State vs. Ohio State kickoff. Crowder thought of his grandfathers, long gone now, who’d braved World War II and the Korean War. His father had endured two brutal years in the jungles of Vietnam. He’d grown up watching his brothers and cousins go off in crisp uniforms, while he re-enacted their stories with little green army men.
“I always wanted to be a masculine man like that,” he said. “Going into the army was the manly thing to do.”
Crowder hoped the Army would bring him the glory the other men in his family had enjoyed. Instead he spent a handful of years stuck in Oklahoma as a cannon crewman. He endured grueling training and learned how to handle fickle machines that blasted four-foot rounds that could chew through buildings in a split-second.
When the deployment he dreamt of never came, Crowder waited out his time, returned to Indianapolis and became a handyman. Now he finds the honor he loved in the Army helping the elderly with yard and housework.
“I still miss it,” he said, picking the bread off his wings with a fork.
At noon, as the parade kicked off on the other city of the city, the veterans in Hooters sucked on Sprite and Coke and exchanged sober chuckles at the lewd bar signs.
“Warning,” one read. “Consumption of alcohol may lead you to think you have a chance with a Hooters girl.”
Ishmill Woods took a seat and removed his sunglasses. Beside him, his wife squinted at her phone beneath a baseball cap that screamed “SEXY” in bedazzled capitals. He chatted up another veteran about the freebies he planned to make good on throughout the day.
“Well, I figure we’ll start here,” Woods said. “Get some wings. Then later maybe we’ll head over to TGI Fridays and White Castle.”
Woods, 45, spent nearly 20 years as a cook for the Army and Navy, tracing the globe on aircraft carriers and big barges. An Indianapolis native, the military whisked him to places like Japan, Hong Kong and Hawaii, ones he’d wondered about as a boy in the midwest. He made meals for thousands and thousands of men, savoring the chances to serve them special meals on holidays — juicy ribs and steak, glistening lobsters and crab.
When he finally returned home, his body and mind were worn in ways he hadn’t expected. After years of scrubbing massive ovens and hauling heavy trays of food, his hands trembled. He couldn’t sleep, on edge after years of being constantly on guard on the fringes of conflict.
He tried school and work, but struggled to stick to either, grappling with mental illnesses he doesn’t like to speak of. Now he draws a pension and tries to find some joy in his free time.
“I’m 100 percent disabled,” He said. “Some days I work out. Some days I just sit at home at watch Scooby Doo.”
Woods loosed a sigh and clenched his fist, staring at his half-eaten buffalo chicken sandwich. He fiddled with some curly fries.
“I don’t like it here,” he said. “I miss the travel.”
The televisions played commercial after commercial of proud, uniformed men advertising Veterans Day deals at Denny’s and IHOP. Outside, the din of the parade could be heard down the street. But inside, the veterans sat without any bluster or bravado. They didn’t indulge in war stories or talk about the good old days. Instead, they ate sandwiches with names like “Strip Cheese” and avoided eye-contact with the perky, silk-haired waitresses.
By the time he’d finished dissecting his sandwich, all of Woods’s enthusiasm for the day had withered. He didn’t want to watch the parade. He didn’t even want the freebies.
“I don’t think I want to go anywhere else,” he said softly to his wife. “I just want to go home and watch football.”
Woods jammed his hat back on his head and gave a weak smile when Robinson bid him goodbye as he headed out into the cold, as she’d done to the other veterans who’d quietly come and gone.
“Thank you for your service.”
Sarah Bahr – IUPUI
She’d been threading her way across a one-rope bridge during a training exercise at Fort Bragg in North Carolina when she lost her footing.
She fell seven feet. She knew something was wrong when she didn’t feel the landing.
“The doctors thought I was paralyzed,” she said. “It turns out I wasn’t, but I spent two days in the hospital.”
After entering the Army in 2008 at age 18, she was discharged in 2010 with permanent back and hip injuries that made her non-deployable. But not by choice.
“I fought it,” she said. “But I lost and had to leave.”
Even knowing that her stint in the Army would lead to lifelong injuries, Zamudio said she’d enlist all over again.
“In a heartbeat,” she said. “I’d do it all over again, 100 percent.”
As an 18-year-old fresh out of high school, Zamudio didn’t want to be mired in a dead-end desk job for the rest of her life. She wanted to see the world, and she figured the Army was her ticket to travel. Plus, her entire family--”my mom, dad, grandpa, brother, all my aunts and uncles”--had served in the Air Force.
“My entire family was Air Force, so it was kind of just one of those things,” she said.
Though her sequin hair bow and hot pink nails belie that Zamudio is a medic trained to give IVs and shoot weapons, she knew what she was signing up for.
“I knew that it was going to be hard,” she said. “The sole purpose of basic training is to break you down as a civilian and build you back up as a soldier.”
“But I craved that.”
The 28-year-old mother is now working on completing the Medical Billing and Coding program at Harrison College in Indianapolis. After working as a nanny and then stay-at-home mom for five years, she turned to Claire’s because she needed an outlet.
“This was the first place I applied to,” she said. “And here I am.”
At the moment, her two-year-old son is still more interested in dinosaurs than guns, she said. But if he wanted to follow in her footsteps, she’d have no reservations.
“If he ever chose to do it, I wouldn’t stop him,” she said. “I’d be proud of him for it.”
* * * * *
Zamudio flies in the face of the stereotypical veteran--the older, white man. But even these men have wives, daughters, sons, grandchildren, great-grandchildren--the impact of their service extends far beyond themselves.
And it’s hiding in plain view.
It is the Arts Garden cultural concierge who recently traveled to North Belgium to see the site where her father served during World War II.
During his time as a prisoner of war in Germany, 64-year-old Debbie Moore’s father developed a taste for German Black Bread--“a pumpernickel-like, thick, rye loaf.” Growing up, her family would seek it out at German restaurants during trips to Cincinnati and Chicago.
It’s still her go-to order at German pads today, though she hasn’t yet discovered it on any Indianapolis menus.
It is the gray-haired man hunched over in a folding chair in front of a Convention Center elevator, glasses fogged and smeared so he can hardly see through them.
Excuse me, sir, have you served?
“I haven’t,” he croaks. “But my son and my father have.”
Wanna talk about it?
His eyes light up. But there’s an obvious conflict.
“I’d rather not,” he said. “I’m working.”
He looks genuinely disappointed as the elevator doors close on his regretful face.
But beneath the thick, clouded lenses, his eyes are shining.
Thousands of veterans and their families clutched coffees, pulling hats down over red-tinged ears as they braved the 20-degree temperatures to honor the service of their comrades and family members in downtown Indianapolis Saturday afternoon. Although legions of black- and white-capped men and women in blue-and-yellow striped pants were honored as they marched along Meridian Street, Veterans Day is not just the thousands who come from all over Central Indiana to march in the annual downtown Indianapolis parade. It touches everyone, from 90-year-old World War II veterans to the more than two million female fighters who prove on a daily basis that women can be more than typists.
Even the 28-year-old Claire’s Boutique clerk with a silver-sequined bow in her long, brown hair once rushed along the lines of fire as a medic at Fort Bragg.
Ashlin Zamudio couldn’t feel her feet.
She tried her legs.
Her knees. Her hips.
Courtney Becker – University of Notre Dame
“I just think it’s kind of nice that after serving we can at least come home — and not that many veterans expect them to just give us anything, but it’s nice that they show their appreciation that we did something,” he said. “So I certainly appreciate it.”
Veterans who live outside Indianapolis, such as Antoine McKinley, who served three years in the Army, were blown away by the show of support throughout downtown Indianapolis. McKinley, 29, grew up in Gary, IN but has lived in Oklahoma for eight years. He happened to visit Indianapolis over Veteran’s Day weekend, and the festivities, he said, far exceeded anything he had ever seen back home — particularly the free service.
“Veterans Day, it just felt like another day [in Oklahoma],” he said. “Here, this is more life. I feel a little better being a veteran out here. … I feel proud and special.”
Kayla Dowe, 19, who spent Veteran’s Day collecting donations for veterans’ funds with local radio station WIBC in Monument Circle, said while the city’s recognition of veterans was more pronounced on Veteran’s Day, Indianapolis has always featured causes on their behalf.
“I spend all my time downtown and there’s always something for veterans going on,” she said. “There are food pantries to help homeless veterans, and just money [collections] for whatever they might need. They’re always collecting something.”
Dean White, who stopped by Monument Circle before attending the parade, echoed Dowe and said this show of support was emblematic of the feelings those native to Indiana have regarding veterans.
“I believe Indiana is a strong supporter of our veterans,” he said. “We’re behind them 100 percent and we thank God for them.”
In addition to a USA jacket from the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, White, 50, wore a blue and white hat for the occasion. White said he and his 29-year-old son Josh, decked out in an American flag jacket and Uncle Sam hat, dressed up because of how important Veteran’s Day is to them.
“It means men who fought for our country, for our freedom,” he said. “ … My pastor’s a Vietnam veteran, and it’s just my way to say welcome home to all our veterans — especially those who didn’t get to get a welcome home.”
After serving on the Board of Commissioners for the Indiana War Memorial in the 4th Congressional district, Dodson said he has seen people “rally around the veterans” in other ways, and he views the free service on Veteran’s Day as just another show of appreciation for them.
Frank Arnold, 33, said he usually attends the Veteran’s Day parade with his veteran friend every year, but she opted to stay out of the cold and go to Texas Roadhouse for her “free Veteran’s Day gift” of a meal from a special menu this time. Arnold said these gifts, along with the show of pride the Veteran’s Day parade offers, are a way for grateful Americans to thank veterans.
McKinley, who wore camouflage pants and carried his service backpack to mark himself as a veteran, became overwhelmed with emotion as he tried to express how it meant to him to see people give back to him for his service. After years of thinking of Veteran’s Day as “another day,” he said, McKinley was excited to embrace what the celebration in Indianapolis had in store for him.
“Besides the free stuff they’re handing out, this is awesome. This is just awesome and … we’re definitely going to check the parade out,” he said. “After we get a cup of Starbucks.”
It’s a day to serve those who have served their country.
While free food might not make up for years of putting one’s life on the line in service of the United States, businesses and volunteers in and around Indianapolis thanked veterans in the best way they could on Veteran’s Day.
Veterans who visited food and coffee chains such as Applebee’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks to have a meal or a hot cup of coffee on a cold day Saturday were served free of charge in honor of their service. People around Monument Circle, where volunteers — many of them veterans themselves — strung Christmas lights from the Indiana State Soldiers and Sailors Monument, passed out small American flags and offered veterans free coffee, hot chocolate and donuts.
Charles Dodson, who served in the military for six years, stepped into Starbucks wearing a Navy veteran’s hat for a free coffee on his way to the Veteran’s Day parade in downtown Indianapolis. Dodson, 53, comes from a military family. His brother and sister are also both veterans, and he has two daughters serving in the Air Force and Army. While most veterans would never think to ask for free service, Dodson said, he is grateful to business and volunteers for deciding to give back to veterans on a day dedicated to recognizing their sacrifice.
Austin Candor – DePauw University
But it is the generation of tomorrow that has Harrison more concerned than ever. With a number of homeless veterans scattered around the Indianapolis community, Harrison fears the younger crowd doesn’t carry the respect for the people who have kept them out of harm’s way in past years.
“We know what we’ve been through. We see people out here making fun of us,” Harrison says as her kind face momentarily turns into a scowl. “It’s easy to go to bed angry.”
But only a few blocks from Harrison is a beam of sunshine that sits on a street curb. Decked out in camouflage pants and an army cap, 4-year old Brystun Smithhart anxiously awaits the Veterans Day Parade.
Though generations removed from Harrison, Smithhart already knows what it means to look out for his fellow Americans. After all, he was raised on it.
His grandfather, Terry Lawrence, is a Vietnam veteran. Lawrence, along with his wife Lisa, have been bringing Smithhart to the American Legion, headquartered in Indianapolis, since Smithhart was a baby. As a family, they understand the urgency of taking care of their own.
“We all join together to make sure that the homeless veterans are sheltered, have food and clothing, whatever they need,” Lisa explains. “I’m raising (Smithhart) to thank all veterans and to appreciate the American Flag.”
And Smitthart has had plenty of opportunities to show love for his country.
Whenever the family eats at McDonalds in their home town of Brownsburg, Indiana, Smitthart makes a point of approaching veterans to shake their hand and thank them.
This past September, Smithhart bravely sang “My Country Tis of Thee” in front of 400 people at a veteran’s reunion.
Today, he waves a small American flag as his eyes fall on a group of police motorcyclists who are set to begin the parade’s festivities.
“As a four-year old, he has a lot of respect,” says Terry, who also carries Harrison’s mentality of looking out for one another.
“If you don’t take care of each other, nobody’s going to,” he says as he stands over Smitthart, who looks up at him with the smile he’s given to countless veterans. “And you can’t let everybody forget what got us to the point today.”
Harrison and Smithhart may never meet, but it’s people like the four-year old, along with his unwavering patriotism, that will hopefully one day allow Harrison to go to bed at peace with the world.
Sitting in a downtown Indianapolis Starbucks on Veterans Day, Tammy Anabell Harrison carefully watches a woman wearing a light coat and blue pajama bottoms make her way to a back table. She appears lonely. More importantly, she looks cold.
Harrison has seen enough as she approaches the woman.
“I don’t know you, but here’s a $5 gift card. Go get yourself something,” Harrison kindly says as she places a warm hand on the woman’s cheek with a smile and the comforting eyes of a mother.
A 58-year old marine veteran herself, Harrison remembers being taught one thing: To take care of one another.
“We just roll like that,” Harrison says simply after returning to her table. “It has to come from your heart.”
Having been stationed in both North Korea and Germany throughout the 1970’s, Harrison has seen her fair share of conflict and hatred in the world, likely more so than anyone packed into the coffee shop on this cold November morning.
Laurel Demkovich – Indiana University
She clutches her walkie-talkie. So far, so good.
* * * * *
To Heather and her family, the Veterans Day celebrations are a family affair. Heather helps coordinate. Her dad, Tim, 67, is the vice president of the Veterans Council. Her mom, Nancy, 55, walks with the American Legion Auxiliary where she is the district president.
The Elson’s are an American Legion family. They have all been a part of the veterans association for years. The local post is their second home and its members their family.
Tim served in the army during the Vietnam War, and afterward, became an active member in the Legion. Nancy, too, has been a part of the American Legion Auxiliary for years. Six years ago, Heather decided to join, too, first as secretary before shortly becoming her post’s president.
Tim became the vice president of the Veterans Day Council three years ago where one of his biggest jobs would be to put on the annual parade. He soon brought on Heather as his associate parade coordinator.
Heather was happy to take the position, knowing how important it is to honor veterans. To Heather, Veterans Day celebrations seem odd since she recognizes how important veterans are every day. Growing up, she learned to respect the flag and to honor those who served or are currently serving.
While Heather and her family are happy to take part in the celebrations every year, they still remember that to them, Veterans Day should be every day.
* * * * *
After starting the parade, Heather and Nancy start the walk back to the American Legion floats.
As they’re walking, Nancy stops to hand any veteran she sees a picture. The pictures were drawn by preschoolers that Heather substitute-teaches at St. Philip Neri Catholic School. Each one has a red-white-and-blue handprint and a poem on red construction paper. The first line reads, “Although my hands are very small, I made this flag to fly for all.”
“Thank you for your service,” Nancy says. And to those who recently returned, “Welcome home.”
The two know everyone.
“Hi Georgie!” Heather says as hugs a veteran waiting to walk in the parade.
“Morning guys!” she says to another.
Someone compliments Heather’s hat as she walks by. The American-flag cowboy hat is what she calls her “Legion Hat.” On it, she has two pins. One depicts Betsy Ross sewing the American flag; it’s this year’s American Legion Auxiliary pin. The other supports military kids. It’s purple and has a soldier holding an American flag drawn on it. It reads, “KEEP CALM and PURPLE UP!” Purple, Heather says, symbolizes the color of mixing all the branches of the military.
But her hat isn’t the only place she shows her support. She’s wearing three layers: her Uncle Sam shirt, a Myrtle Beach sweatshirt and on top, a read American Legion Auxiliary zip-up. She says she tries to wear something red, even if it’s small, every day to support veterans.
She encourages her students to wear red on Fridays to support troops at home or currently serving.
“I have the utmost respect for them,” Heather says. “I want to serve them.”
* * * * *
Heather joined her Auxiliary six years ago as a freshman in college. She started out as secretary of her post, moving up shortly after to president.
“I didn’t think we were doing enough to help veterans,” she said. “As president, I wanted to change that.”
As president, Heather focused the auxiliary’s efforts on what she is most passionate about: post-traumatic stress disorder. She raised money for PTSD awareness. She worked to get training dogs to veterans suffering from PTSD. She worked on an Auxiliary auction that sold paintings made my veterans suffering from PTSD.
“It’s a terrible thing to know they went over, fought for me and came back more damaged than before,” Heather said.
That was one of the biggest reasons why Heather said veterans should be treated with respect every day.
Nancy said she’s seen how veterans have been treated differently. She said from Thanksgiving to Christmas, everyone does a lot for veterans, but by the time June comes around, they are forgotten again. She said people should spread that giving out throughout the year so veterans understand how appreciated they are.
Heather tries to remind her students about veterans every day in the classroom. If they have free time, she makes them write letters to those who are serving. If a student misbehaves, she makes them write a letter to those overseas.
But Nancy said it’s getting better. More people have started to recognize veterans every day and thank them for their service every day.
“It means a lot to the veterans,” Nancy said. “It shows that what they did fight for mattered.”
* * * * *
When the two arrive at the parade route, they are greeted by hugs and smiles.
“Hi, baby!” someone says to Heather.
“Hi, Nancy! Thank you!” another member says, thanking her for all her work during the day.
The two get situated on the golf cart that will travel the parade route. They pile on top of other members of a local post. Even though Nancy and Heather aren’t a part of this post, they know everyone in it; they know almost everyone in the local American Legion community.
There are at least 10 auxiliaries in Indianapolis, but Heather says it’s important to find the one that feels the most at home.
“The Legion is a family,” she says. “It’s become another home for me.”
Heather Elson, 24, stands at the corner of Michigan Street and Pennsylvania Street staring at a line of 12 motorcycles.
“One minute!” she shouts.
It’s the start of the Indianapolis Veterans Day parade, and in one minute, Heather will have the most important job all day: signaling the start of the parade.
She takes off her American flag-patterned cowboy hat and waves it in front of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Motorcycle Drill Team.
“Ready, set, go!”
The drill team’s radios buzz, and they take off, riding in formations up and down the block. Two even stand on top of the seats as they ride – Heather’s favorite part.
Heather has been the assistant parade coordinator for three years, getting the opportunity to decide the lineup and makes sure nothing goes wrong the day of the parade.
Tyler Fenwick – IUPUI
“Better late than never!” shouts Patrick Mann as he adjusts the state flag.
Battista immediately starts helping with the flags.
Battista’s father was aboard the USS Indianapolis in 1945 but got off at Guam before the ship sank in the Philippine Sea. Decades later, his son is dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after serving in Iraq.
“War is a terrible thing,” he says. “I don’t understand why we have to have it.”
But Battista might be the most passionate submariner out there. He has no reservations about that.
“In the Army all they teach you how to do is march,” he says. “In the Marines all they do is teach you how to kill.”
And what about submariners?
“We got whatever we wanted,” says Battista. “We were the elite.”
And there was a certain toughness in submariners that he thinks is missing today.
“We didn’t wear life jackets or any of that crap,” he says.
Battista now spends his days working for bands as they tour the country. He was even a stage manager for KISS in 1979.
Meanwhile, Mann, who served from 1979-91, is reminding everyone that the U.S. flag is to be raised higher than the rest of the flags on the float.
Mann spent the 1980s on a submarine outside of Lybia during a period of uncertainty and unrest in the region. He signed a non-disclosure contract at the end of his service and has details of his work that he won’t be able to share unless he makes it to about 115 years old.
But these former submariners seem content to not attract the brightest lights and most fanfare.
“We don’t show off that much,” says Mann. “It’s something you’ll never hear us talk about because it’s just who we are.”
It’s a business-like approach that doesn’t admire distractors.
“We’d come back home, do our thing, and be done with it,” says Barnes.
The float has been ready for some time now. They’re waiting for the parade to begin and wondering why it needs to be 30 degrees outside, but this is also the perfect time to reflect on their lives at sea.
“Our sole purpose is to remember submariners,” says Mann, “those who came before us.”
On the back of Tom Barnes’ truck is a torpedo. Or at least a replica of one. It’s sitting on a float for U.S. Navy submarine veterans, and they’re getting ready to roll it through the Indianapolis Flanner and Buchanan Veterans Day Parade.
The float was made in 1999 and, thanks to maintenance, still looks noble. The wood construction sits atop a red trailer frame. Lining each side of the float are eight miniature U.S. flags. Up at the front left of the float is the Indiana State Flag, and to its right is the U.S. flag, raised about six inches higher.
The torpedo is propped up in the middle of the float and is a model of a Mark-14. The real thing would be 21 feet long. This one is 18. Its head and tail are yellow, the body blue.
Barnes served during the Cold War and spent time on a fast-attack submarine outside Russia. These submarines are designed to get up close and personal with whatever it’s tracking or targeting, which made Barnes feel like a spy in those days.
“We know more about the Russians than Donald Trump does,” Barnes says laughing.
Shortly after they start getting the float ready, Joe Battista, who served in the Navy from 1965-69, shows up.
Dana Lee – Butler University
Damn. He can’t remember the names. He’ll walk by again to read them again, maybe on his way to the library.
* * * * *
Walking towards the Indiana War Memorial, every stroke of Penny’s arm brushes across the patch embroidered on the right side of her vest.
All gave some. Bobby Joe Likens. Some gave all.
Her brother’s name is hand-stitched in white, as if each needle pierce into the fabric could punctuate the loss she felt — and still feels. Everyday is veterans day, she says.
“We were in Charleston because I was with him,” Penny looks over at her husband Bill, an Air Force veteran. He was stationed in Charleston at the time. “My mother called me and told me. I said, ‘Those sons of bitches.’ I’ve never been the same. My family was never the same.”
Every day is veterans day. Between her and her husband, they know five people on the wall. Penny’s brother is one. Some were classmates, or a classmates brother. One is MIA. She uses present tense, but Bill doesn’t correct her.
* * * * *
He doesn’t — can’t know what war was like. Junebug doesn’t try to. So he respects the troops he sees, every one. “Salutes them to death,” he says. He knows a few people who fought, but he doesn’t see them in the park today.
“I do feel a sense of peace, but it breaks my heart that they lost their lives,” Junebug says. “They gave their life for hundreds and millions of people. I do feel a sense of peace, but I don't.”
Sometimes, he says, he thinks the world is going to come crashing down on him. 9/11. Las Vegas. And yeah, that most recent shooting in Texas too. What’s with people these days? He’s sure he’ll get stuck in the middle one day.
“I feel like the world is going to come to an end because of all this going around,” Junebug says.
He likes to think about the wall with all the names he can’t remember — likes to think about what kind of lives they would’ve had if the Vietnam War never happened. Hell, if none of the wars existed. Maybe one of those soldiers would’ve called him Junebug.
“It saddens me right now talking about it,” he says. “I love everybody. I love every color, every race — everybody. I don't discriminate. No nationality, none of that.”
* * * * *
Across the street, Penny’s husband Bill is talking about their granddaughter. He fought for this country, the same way his brothers did, and the same way his father did in World War II. But this country his granddaughter is growing up in? This isn’t the same country he fought for.
The division is worse, Penny adds. Worse than Vietnam and the 60s, and that was when Bill was called a baby killer by someone who assumed he fought the Vietcong. He didn’t.
“There’s going to be a civil war, that’s what I think,” Bill says. “Between the right and the left, the extreme Democrat and the extreme Republican. They ain’t compromising.”
When Bill received a letter a month before his 18th birthday in 1966, it was the result of his mandatory physical for the military.1-A, it read, available for military service.
His father told Bill and his siblings the same thing: “Whatever you do, don’t let them draft you into the army.”
“That was my dad’s advice and that was all he ever said about it,” Bill says.
It’s more complicated now, in ways it never was before.
Bill didn’t vote, but he’s glad Donald Trump is in the White House. He’s shaking things up, he says, and when he nods in approval, his veterans hat dips his eyes in shadow.
“They need a shake up,” he says of congress. “They’re starting to see the light a little bit. I hope they are.”
The parade is almost starting, and when the band starts to play, he looks across the street.
Junebug is throwing his hands in the air now, and when he does, the name Cindy Marie does too, Cindy and Marie tattooed across the top of his left and right hand. An ex-girlfriend, he says. The hand with Marie tosses a middle finger towards the sky, directed towards Calvin Briggs, a friend sitting at the end of the bench. Calvin seems to catch the gesture and fires back with a verbal spar.
“The same soldiers that go over there fighting for this country, when they come back all f*cked up, what does the country do here for them?” Calvin is standing now. “They’re out here homeless and shit. They should be awarded a house, a car, a bank account.”
This is a different Calvin from before, when he was sitting on the bench and saying “It is what is, stressing about what’s going on isn’t going to make anything better.”
When he’s saved up enough money from working his janitorial job at the convention center, Calvin wants to own a house. Everyone should be able to, he says. Least of all the veterans. And this country does a piss poor job of making it happen.
“Nah,” Junebug says. He lays blame on the same man Bill was just praising for “shaking things up.”
“I really feel like they have to impeach him,” Junebug says. “He's trying to start wars. He's trying to cut off everything for the people — what we need — he's trying to cut it all off.”
The band starts to play and the parade is about to start, but across the street from Bill and Penny Smither and thirty feet away from names etched into a wall, everything else seems distant. There’s a sign in the park that says no alcoholic beverages, but sipping from beer cans in brown paper bags, Junebug and Calvin don’t seem to care. No one else does either.
Maybe it should be strange, that he feels a connection to her, a woman he’s never met. Him, a black man in his forties. Her, a white woman in her seventies, marching in the Indianapolis Veterans’ Day Parade.
Two strangers separated by single street.
She would probably never call him Junebug, the nickname his parents gave when he was younger and continues to stick today. His real name is Junior. Maybe, if they met, he would insist, and as formalities give way to familiarity, Junior would give way to Junebug.
Separated by a street with a parade of veterans lined between, it seems unlikely that Junebug and Penny Smither will ever meet. But when he walks by the Vietnam War Memorial like he does everyday, he also passes the name of Penny’s brother, etched into stone. Right now, Junebug is sitting just thirty feet away from the memorial, a span of grass separating his spot on the bench and where his finger points.
“I've read all the names over there,” Junebug says. “I can't remember any of them now, but I've read all the names.”
Sarah Verschoor – Indiana University
His scruffy white beard and round belly, subtly resembling Santa Claus, welcomed all.
Across the country, not enough is done for veterans, Petrie said.
So he has dedicated his life to help all.
But it hasn't always been this way, Petrie said. For a decade, he ignored God’s call to serve others.
* * * * *
A Hoosier-native and then a Husker by choice, Petrie said he was born into the Salvation Army. Both his parents were officers in the organization, ordained-ministers who traveled around the country working for the Christian organization.
He was born in Muncie and moved with his family to Nebraska a few years later.
Veterans Day began as Armistice Day, commemorating Nov. 11, the day the World War 1 armistice was signed, he said.
Petrie remembers in elementary school standing up beside his desk for a moment of silence on the day at 11 a.m., the time exact the armistice was signed.
Now, he dislikes that students in class don’t say the pledge. He doesn’t like to talk politics, but the kneeling gets to him, too.
One of his favorite songs is the national anthem, he said. At football games and elsewhere, it always brings a tear to his eye.
He loves the United States, how the country always seems to be the first one to fight for freedom here and abroad. He cares for the people who live there.
* * * * *
Bare and gloved hands reached into the truck’s window for hot chocolate and coffee. It was all free. Some tried to hand volunteers donations, but they directed them to red kettles.
The crew Saturday acted as modern-day donut girls, serving packs of Uncle Wally’s muffins, Svenhard’s pastries and Honey Buns to everyone who came by the truck.
During World War 1, Salvation Army workers, women known as lassies, traveled to France to help soldiers and started to make donuts by hands for them. They used bottles as rolling pins and knelt over the wood fire stove to fry them, according to the Indiana Salvation Army website.
The donuts comforted the exhausted soldiers during war. Serving hot drinks and sweets at Saturday's was an ode to the past.
“It’s the best thing they could do,” said Lisa Lawrence, who was at the service with her grandson Brystun and Brystun’s grandpa who served in the Vietnam war.
* * * * *
It wasn’t like God spoke to him and gave him specific directions. Lines from Samuel, Jeremiah, the still and small voice persuaded him to answer the call to serve.
As a major in the Salvation Army, he is a pastor who works at the Salvation Army in Indianapolis. He sits diagonal from Bert Williams in the office The two joke around and poke each other as they work.
Petrie would be the first one to come rescue him in a disaster, Williams said.
As the ceremony began across from the truck, the band played the national anthem. Petrie sang along. When it ended, he took off his sunglasses and wiped his eyes. The national anthem always brings a tear to his eyes.
“God doesn’t call you to have an easy life,” he said.
But what God called him to do is a satisfying life, he said.
He’s used to helping out, helping the poor, the disaster-struck, the veterans, whoever is in need. More than 30 years with the Salvation Army, Major Keith Petrie, 64, is hardened servant of the people.
So Saturday morning was no different than most his days. He and a squad of volunteers from the Salvation Army brought a white disaster relief truck to the Indianapolis Veterans Day service.
They served hot chocolate, coffee and pastries to the veterans, their families and those who came to support and celebrate the military.
The truck usually heads out to floods or other places to help communities struck by disasters, but Saturday it was briefly converted to the Salvation Army Coffee Canteen.
Four volunteers inside served those who came for a warm drink or a snack, and Petrie stood outside greeting them. He chatted with a woman in the 38th Infantry Division Band carrying a brass horn. He joked with the four inside the truck.
“Whoops!” he yelled at a teenager who sloshed her hot chocolate as she walked away from the truck.