‘I appreciate that they think about vets’
MICHIGAN CITY – Service. Gratitude. Patriotism. All were plentiful at the annual Veteran’s Dinner at St. John’s United Church of Christ, a tradition started seven years ago.
“We are proud to provide a nice dinner and evening for our area veterans. It’s our pleasure to serve them,” said Jean Lahm, who handles community relations for Geisen-Carlisle Funeral & Cremation Services, which hosted the event on Nov. 5 for vets and spouses.
“We are thrilled that it’s become so popular and grown, and are thrilled to give back to the community. It fosters a sense of pride and patriotism that we want to keep alive in Michigan City,” he said.
The evening began with a display of World War I artifacts by local historian Mark Waywood. In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Great War, he answered questions and led a discussion about the country’s military history.
“He brought several interesting pieces. Mark is all-around knowledgeable about history, and it’s just so fascinating to hear him talk about it,” Lahm said. “He’s passionate about this and has a wonderful collection.”
“This is the largest attendance ever for this,” Geisen-Carlisle owner Larry Geisen told the crowd. “It means a lot to us that you want to come out and join with other veterans here this evening.”
The event had a waiting list for the first time.
Norman Long, who turns 84 this month, attended for the third time with his wife of 61 years, Nancy Long. He served in the Marines from 1953-56 as a forward observer for artillery.
“Our friends told me about it,” Nancy said. “They said, “You have to call – it’s filling up fast.’ ”
Seated at the same table was their friend, John Rostecki, who served in the Army’s 4th Division during the Vietnam War in 1966-67.
“I appreciate that they think about the vets,” he said, adding that honoring veterans “has become a lot more prevalent. People are beginning to understand that we were just over there doing what we were told to do.”
He remembered the unwelcome homecoming many Vietnam vets received when they came back. “Things were thrown at as. We were spat on. I was afraid to tell people that I’d been in,” Rostecki said.
Herb Miller, 86, and his wife, Nancy, arrived early to save seven seats for friends. This was their third time attending.
“I think it’s wonderful that they do this for the veterans,” said Herb, who served in the dental corps from 1958-59. He is now a retired dentist after 42 years at Coolspring Dental Clinic in Michigan City.
Herb said he served in Korea, just after the war had ended. “There was nothing there in Seoul when I was there. Now it’s a metropolitan city. I just can’t imagine it.”
Friends Marvin Dirks and Tim Waltz, both Army veterans, have attended the dinner for several years. This year, Dirks invited Albert Allison for the first time.
“I told him, ‘Come on, this is a good thing for you,’” Dirks said.
Allison recalled his service days in the Air Force from 1965-70 when he was stationed at Osan Air Force Base in South Korea and Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.
“I started off as a clerk and ended up as an aircraft dispatcher,” he said.
During the evening, attendees were treated to entertainment by the four-piece Chesterton acoustic band, Hoosier Recruits, who performed “songs of soldiers and sailors through the years.” The evening ended with a meal by Elite Catering.
To further honor veterans, Geisen-Carlisle has a veterans’ memorial entry in the July 4 parade each year. Any veterans that have passed away in the previous year and used Geisen-Carlisle’s services have their names featured on the display. Area Boy Scouts join the staff for the tribute by walking in the parade.
“We absolutely feel it’s important to reach back to the community and give back. It strengthens the community as a whole and brings families together, which is what we are all about,” Lahm said. “Our business is formed through relationships and serving families. We are grateful for the trust. We are intertwined in the community.”