Many of the people who typically greet the new vice president-elect as “Mike” filled the seats at Camp Atterbury near Edinburgh to welcome him home on Veterans Day.
Columbus native Gov. Mike Pence heard a roar of approval as he exited his motorcade and walked to the stage Friday afternoon, waving and saluting to family, friends and military personnel who gave him a standing ovation at the Veterans Memorial.
And they roared again with approval as he paused, stopped and turned to wave at hundreds of people still in line outside the Atterbury gates going through a security check. He smiled as they enthusiastically waved back from behind the security fence.
It was not Pence’s first Indiana homecoming since winning the vice presidency Tuesday. Many of the visitors at the Atterbury ceremony had already greeted him Thursday night at Indianapolis International Airport when he returned from New York after Donald Trump’s presidential victory celebration.
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But his family, and rows of Bartholomew County Republicans and representatives from the Statehouse, turned out again to have a chance to speak with him.
Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, who was in the front row, said he saw Pence on Thursday night.
Even though three people separated them on the stage at the airport event, Pence stopped to say hello and give Smith a high-five.
“I told him I was proud of him,” Smith said.
Although a major announcement about Pence’s new role leading President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team was made while Pence was at Atterbury, security officers did not allow reporters anywhere near him to interview him or ask questions about the new role.
During his remarks, Pence focused on people in the crowd who had served in the military and those serving now.
Even before he was introduced by Maj. Gen. Courtney Carr of Columbus, commander of Indiana’s National Guard, Pence drew more applause and laughter as Pence stood for Carr when he was introduced, prompting another standing ovation from the 200 in the crowd.
Addressing family, neighbors and friends first, he pointedly stopped and looked at his family — many of whom still live in Columbus — and said, “Mom,” as he began his speech, honoring his mother Nancy Pence Fritsch, who sat in the front row.
Saying it was a joy to be home, Pence said there was nowhere else he would rather be on Veterans Day than Camp Atterbury.
“Both this day in November and another in May are humbling,” Pence said. “I am the son of a combat veteran who served in Korea and a proud father of a Marine,” he said.
Noting that there are more than a half million veterans in Indiana, Pence said Friday’s remembrance was to honor their service and sacrifice and to remember that for those who came home with mental scars — and the need for a renewed commitment to their well being.
After introducing the state legislators in the crowd and thanking them for their support of expanding veterans’ services in Indiana, Pence reached across party lines to compliment U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat from northern Indiana, for supporting legislation providing counseling for veterans.
Pence also paid tribute to the families of veterans, reminding the crowd that they serve and bear a burden, too.
He drew more cheers when he pledged that the Trump administration is committed to providing veterans with real-time, first-class healthcare that they deserve.
“Change is coming, I can assure you of that,” he said. “(Trump) is passionate to keep our promises to our veterans.”
Diane Makay, Columbus, a retired home health care worker, said she drove to Atterbury for Pence’s speech for a chance to say hello.
Even though she and the vice president-elect aren’t close friends, she said Pence always remembers her name when greeting her.
“As many people as he knows, it’s absolutely astonishing to me that he remembers,” she said. “It just means a lot to me that someone in that position would remember to call me by name.”
Pence’s mom laughed when asked if she’d had any time to catch up with her son since the whirlwind of winning the election.
“I got a kiss when he got off the plane, and he blew a kiss to me when he left. I might get a kiss today, but that’s all I’ve gotten so far,” she said.
Curtis Waggoner, AMVETS vice commander, and his wife Julieta, Columbus, were sitting behind the Columbus Republican delegation at the ceremony. Julieta Waggoner said the couple had been following Pence’s journey to the vice presidency and they watched his homecoming on television Thursday night.
“I’m sure he will be a good vice president,” she said. “He’s been a great asset leading the state, and he’s the perfect combination with Trump,” she said.
Before the ceremony began, Bartholomew County Republican Chairwoman Barb Hackman gave a Christmas ornament to Fritsch to pass along to the newly elected vice president, an image of the state of Indiana with a heart, to remind them of home.
In his speech, Pence took the crowd with him in sharing a memory of going to Washington, D.C., for the first time as a congressman, and walking to the Iwo Jima memorial to view the large bronze statue of photographer Joe Rosenthal’s famous photograph of Marines raising the U.S. flag over Mount Suribachi.
From that vantage point, with the bronze statue of the Marines in the foreground, Pence said he could view the national monuments, the U.S. Capitol and the White House, and said he vowed that the only picture he would ever have in his congressional office would be of that spot that he viewed that night.
“Having just gotten hired on again,” he deadpanned to applause from the crowd, he said his wife Karen had given him a picture taken from that spot for his congressional office as a gift years ago.
“I will take that photo and hang it in the vice president’s office,” he said.
“This is what Veterans Day is all about,” he said. “Remembering the courage found in men and women who set aside their lives, dreams and their own security to secure democracy. On behalf of the people of Indiana, and soon on behalf of the United States, I say thank you for your service.”
“Both this day in November and another in May are humbling. I am the son of a combat veteran who served in Korea and a proud father of a Marine.”
— Mike Pence, Indiana governor and U.S. vice president-elect