NEW PALESTINE — Faith and freedom go hand-in-hand at New Palestine United Methodist Church. The congregation paid tribute to local veterans with a patriotism-filled musical celebration Sunday to honor those who are currently serving or have served in the United States military.
“This is a pretty nice ceremony,” Lester Brown, 89, of New Palestine said.
Brown joined the Army when he was 18 and fought in World War II — including the Battle of Okinawa in Japan. He and his wife, Erelene Brown, dressed in traditional red, white and blue colors, while Lester wore his Army hat.
“It’s so nice to see them get the recognition,” Erelene Brown said.
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Instead of conducting three Sunday services as they normally do, church leaders decided to bring the congregation together for one special ceremony dedicated exclusively to honoring veterans and God.
Church officials say they’ve always recognized service members during the week leading up to Veterans Day. This year, however, they invited not only church members but all local residents who have served. Each received a commemorative patriotic coin.
“This is a church where we love patriotic music and the idea of patriotism that shows respect for our veterans,” said the Rev. Mark Wesler, pastor of the church.
Brenda Tishim, the church musical director, worked with Wesler to create the patriotic presentation, “I Love This Land.” The congregation and church choir sang “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful.” They also sang other patriotic songs, paying tribute to all military branches.
Tishim’s father, Delos Maxwell, served in the U.S. Army. She said Veterans Day will always be a special event with this congregation.
“There is a lot of patriotism in this community,” Tishim said. “We just wanted to show our appreciation and reach out to the veterans here who might not normally come to our church.”
That included men like Dave Espich of New Palestine, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1963-67 but isn’t a church member. He accepted the invitation to attend the program because he said it is an honor.
“Something like this is really special,” Espich said. “It’s good to see churches in our area do this kind of thing.”
The program included a posting of the colors by members of the Greenfield Veterans Honor Guard. The guard included members Butch Bodell, Dave Pasco and Paul Adams.
Adams, who served in the U.S. Air Force during Vietnam, said the guard members enjoy being able to be a part of programs throughout the county honoring veterans.
“We’re always busy with programs around Veterans Day,” he said.
Adams said he often thinks of his family members who have served when he’s carrying the U.S. flag to post it.
“You also think of the guys you served with,” Adams said. “It gets emotional sometimes.”
Eric Billman, state surgeon for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, served in the U.S. Army, including during Operation Desert Storm. He gave a presentation of the history of Veterans Day and said programs like the one presented by the church are appreciated.
“It reminds people of the sacrifices people made,” Billman said. “We’re honoring our veterans both young and old.”
He said while less than 1 percent of the population has served, they are a minority that deserves recognition.
Program organizers made certain the message of honoring Veterans Day will continue. In addition to the musical presentation and ceremony, they also had a story session with the youth of the church. Longtime church leader Roger Holder, a retired elementary school principal, talked with the children about the freedoms American citizens have, thanks to so many who have served and sacrificed.