NEW PALESTINE — Russ Dowden knows a little something about service and sacrifice, and now the retired Army colonel and Vietnam veteran wants to shine the light on Hoosier veterans who have also answered the call.
Dowden and others hope to induct the first 15-member class into the newly formed Indiana Military Veterans Hall of Fame this November, and the group is actively seeking nominations.
Incorporated as a nonprofit in March 2013, the hall of fame became the eighth such institution in the country, joining Arkansas, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, New York and Oklahoma.
Dowden was inducted into the hall of fame in his home state of Arkansas in 2011 after a 30-year military career during which he earned numerous awards. Among them were the Purple Heart and the Silver Star – the country’s third-highest decoration for gallantry in combat – while serving in February 1966 as leader of an artillery forward observer party north of Saigon.
Given his long, multi-faceted military career, Dowden’s objective for the hall of fame is simple.
“I want these people recognized and have their fellow citizens understand and appreciate what they’ve done for us all,” Dowden said. “I think it’s important for the continued growth of this country.”
Though Americans and Hoosiers have been fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than a dozen years combined, that fight by and large is removed from the everyday lives of Americans not directly or indirectly connected to the war. That’s contributing to a growing disconnect with the military and what its members are doing around the world, Dowden said.
“I think Indiana has supplied more (National) Guard and reserve units to the war on terror than any other state in the union,” he said.
And it’s those young veterans, along with men and women who served before them, the group wants recognized.
“We want to recognize the young people – the men and women who went over there and did their jobs and sacrificed. The community will know that man or woman did something extraordinary.”
To be eligible, a nominee must have either been born in Indiana, entered the military from Indiana or lived in Indiana for a minimum of eight years.
Additionally, nominees must have received an honorable discharge, be of good character and have no felony convictions, the group’s rules state. Posthumous nominations are accepted.
The group has established two categories for entry: veterans with significant military achievements during their careers, and those who served and went on to make exceptional civic and community contributions and accomplishments.
Though virtual for now with only an online presence, supporters hope to establish a physical location at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Lawrence.
Lawrence Mayor Dean Jessup, who also serves on the hall of fame’s board, has long envisioned a walking trail through the compound, capitalizing on and explaining the post’s history.
“It only made sense that (the hall of fame) would go there,” Jessup said.
“It’s been received very well. The military organizations we’ve talked to are just waiting in the wings to help. It’s like any other project,” Jessup said. “We’ve gotten a lot of things done, but we’ve a lot to do.”
In the meantime, Dowden has no doubt about filling the hall of fame with worthy Hoosier veterans.
“We have tons of these people,” Dowden said. “What we need are nominations.”
ABOUT THE HALL OF FAME:
What: Indiana Military Veterans Hall of Fame initial class to recognize Hoosier veterans and their families.
The Class: Each year the organization will induct 15 veterans into the hall of fame and award them the Hall of Fame Medallion.
Induction and deadline: The class of 2014 will be inducted on Nov. 7. Nominations and applications will be accepted through Sept. 1.
For more information: Visit the hall of website at www.imvhof.com www.imvhof.com to download a registration packet or email Dowden at firstname.lastname@example.org