Among those stirred by miniature American flags all around him and enough military veterans to fill the night with war stories stood a civilian son of a combat veteran and a father of a Marine.
He also happened to be Columbus native and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
The governor helped a large crowd at the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic’s annual Salute! concert Friday downtown properly remember those who fought for freedom and never came home.
In nearly 10 minutes of somber remarks frequently laced with scripture references of sacrifice and comfort, Pence reminded all that the musical celebration also memorialized departed service personnel’s selflessness on Memorial Day weekend.
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“I would suggest to you, if only for a few moments, we remember them as our own — because they were,” Pence said. “One way I will do that — and you also will have that chance tonight — is to listen to some of the letters they wrote home.”
Reading aloud segments of veterans’ notes to family remains a hallmark of the free gathering that began in 2001 on the lawn of the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans — a symbol and a collection of pillars that actually includes portions of real letters from local soldiers through the years.
But many of those attending the event this year honoring Vietnam veterans said they came for a simple reason.
Kristin Bell, an eight-year volunteer at the USO at Edinburgh’s Camp Atterbury, enjoys the festivities with her small pooch, Nevada. “I love all the patriotism — and seeing everything that’s so uplifting,” Bell said.
As she spoke, a calm breeze cooled temperatures in the low 90s under clear skies. Some people nearby wore small flags in their caps or headbands. Others sat in stars and stripes-covered lawn chairs.
Fairly new Seymour resident and opera veteran Donata Cucinotta, fresh from an audition in New York City days ago, performed a range of patriotic tunes, including the more modern “American Anthem.” A first-timer at Salute!, she won over the audience a full 25 minutes before the concert with a quick rehearsal of “God Bless America” that soared — and earned her solid applause.
Columbus’ Rick Caldwell, a veteran of Vietnam, Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, mentioned that he knows some Vietnam veterans with mixed feelings about being honored in such situations because of the painful rejection many received when they returned home in the 1960s and 1970s.
“So, tonight, I’m kind of anxious to see who (among the Vietnam) soldiers stands up,” Caldwell said.
Standing straight and true at the corner of Brown and Second streets was Indiana National Guard Capt. Curtis Gummer. He manned four howitzers positioned at the ready for their percussive parts, if you will, in punctuating the orchestra’s classic rendition of “The 1812 Overture” with booms seemingly loud enough to be heard all the way to Camp Atterbury.
Gummer and his weapons served as a magnet for youngsters who were fascinated with their workings. He laughed when asked whether the loud booms actually accomplish putting an exclamation point on a powerful piece of music.
“Oh,” he said before his cue, “they probably will drown out the whole orchestra.”
Number of howitzers on display from the Indiana National Guard
Number of years for the concert
Songs on the concert set list
Number of burgers ready to be sold by the Columbus East High School band boosters