GREENFIELD — Each year, Hancock County residents take time to pause and pay tribute to those who fought for their country. From school children to local leaders, community members set aside time on Veterans Day to express gratitude for the men and women who sacrificed so much to keep their neighbors safe.
A sign of gratitude
The picture James Vallandingham took with his parents in the days before he deployed to Vietnam still sits on a shelf in his bedroom.He’s a fresh-faced teenager in the old photo, wearing his full dress Marines uniform with his parents flanking him near the family car, as if they are about to say goodbye.
Decades later, Vallandingham now lives at Kindred Transitional Care and Rehabilitation Center, a senior care facility in Greenfield.
This week, he was one of dozens of Kindred residents honored at the facility’s annual Veterans Day program. Members of the Greenfield Veterans Honor Guard visited briefly with each former serviceman and woman who now calls the facility home, shaking the hand of each and giving them a certificate and a patriotic quilt made by the local Red Hat Society.
Vallandingham excitedly chatted with his fellow vets during their visits, told them how he was in a tank artillery division while overseas and waved as they left, nodding as one shouted from the hallway, “Semper Fi, brother.”
These yearly visits to nursing homes are a bit more solemn than the school programs that keep the local Honor Guard busy each Veterans Day, said Bob Workman, the commander of the local troupe.
It’s so important for young children to learn that the freedoms they enjoy came at the cost of much sacrifice, and that the men and women who fought for those freedoms should never feel forgotten.
“These can be heartbreaking,” he said of the nursing home visits. “But they are so important.”
As a crowd of community members gathered at the Hancock County Public Library Friday for the Greenfield Chamber of Commerce’s annual Veterans Day lunch, one table sat empty.It stood at the front of the library’s community room, a white tablecloth draped over its top and a red rose standing tall in a vase at its center.
This empty place setting honors all those soldiers and sailors who never came from war, retired Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Paul Norton told those gathered. The empty glass on the table is for all those missing fighters and prisoners of war who never had a chance to share in this meal. The pinch of salt left on plate symbolizes the tears that were shed for them then and are still shed today, he said.
Norton’s voice cracked as he spoke, and he joked with the more than 100 people gathered at the library Friday — more than half of which were veterans — that he can never make through the explanation without crying.
Then they all bowed their heads as a trumpeter played taps.
Where everybody knows
Tim Hunt and Terry Tabb have been pals for several decades.They grew up in Fortville together, graduated a few years apart from the local high school. Their fathers were some of the Fortville Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6904’s earliest members.
Their years as soldiers in Vietnam overlapped a bit, too. Hunt was stationed with an armory unit about 400 miles south of Tabb’s infantry unit in the late 1960s.
Standing in the old window-less bar along Fortville Main Street, they recall those troubling memories with calm voices.
Being in Vietnam was horrible. Worse yet was coming home, Hunt said.
“People spit at us,” he said, his sentence trailing off a bit as he blinked back the tears.
And — despite all the sadness and frustration they feel looking back on their time in the Army — Hunt and Tabb count themselves lucky to have had a VFW to come home to.
When they were overseas years ago, their fathers enlisted them as members to the Fortville post, even hung their uniformed pictures on the walls of the then-new bar, ensuring they had a friendly place to gather, a safe place away from all those who were angered by the conflict in Vietnam.
The post, which Hunt and Tabb now help run, is still the place they come for comfort and camaraderie, the place where everybody knows and understands what they’ve been through.
Things are better now, they say; military men and women have been treated with much more respect and gratitude in the years following the modern-day wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And, thankfully, Veterans Day feels like is just another day behind these doors. It’s a day where veterans are appreciated and respected, even if no one can truly understand the sacrifice unless they’ve been in their boots.
“These guys sign everything — up to their life – on a dotted line,” Tabb said. “It takes a special person to do that.”
“And I’d do it again,” Hunt added, as he friend nodded in agreement. “I’m proud of my service.”