NEW PALESTINE — When Joe Kortz strolls down Main Street, he can now look up and see the past. His own past.
Kortz, 69, is a former Marine officer who served from 1969-75 and saw combat in the Vietnam War.
“I lied about my age when I was 16 and joined,” Kortz said. “So I was in Vietnam a full year before I should have really been there as a 17-year-old kid.”
Kortz and fellow veteran Chuck Wallace, who was a member of the Indiana National Guard and also completed a combat tour in Vietnam, are the first two members of the town’s new Hometown Hero banner program.
The program is designed to recognize those who have served by placing a photo of the veterans from their service days on a banner that hangs prominently on the town’s decorative light poles.
Kortz, who went to New Palestine High School, moved to Indianapolis after his time in the Marines. He and his wife, who is from New Palestine, moved back to the area in 1990. He was surprised and honored when he learned his photo was going to be on a Hometown Hero banner.
“I’m not a person who shows lots of emotion, but it really made me feel good that New Palestine did this,” Kortz said.
He noted that many returning Vietnam veterans were not treated as they should have been.
“We didn’t get a whole lot of accolades,” Kortz said.
He has a room in his basement with service medals and photos from his days in the military and noticed one day that one of the photos was gone. That’s how he found out town officials were using his photo, one taken when he first enlisted at the age of 16, for the banner.
“It was quite a surprise,” he said. “It made me feel really good. “
Wallace, 74, who lives near U.S. 40 and Mt. Comfort Road, was a member of Company D, 151st, Indiana Infantry Rangers and was part of one of the rare National Guard units that saw active combat duty in Vietnam.
He joined the Guard in 1968 and remained a part of the group for nearly three years. That’s when he and over 200 members were activated for service and went to Georgia for more training before deploying overseas.
“We were part of what was called the ‘long-range patrol,’” Wallace said. “We’d go out and sit on the trails and wait for guys to go by.”
He was pleasantly surprised town officials selected him for the honor of being on a Hometown Hero banner, but said the National Guard in Greenfield was well-known for its military service.
“Mayor (Richard) Lugar shut down the government buildings to welcome us home and they gave us the key to the city, but I don’t remember exactly what we did with that,” Wallace said with a laugh.
Wallace noted he’s proud of his service and is thankful officials in New Palestine recognize the importance of that service.
“It’s pretty great,” Wallace said.
Julie Lucas of New Palestine Main Street said the town is pleased to be participating in the Hometown Hero banner program. They also display Blue Star banners, in honor of those now serving; and the Gold Star banner, for servicemen and women who have died in service.
“We have had the two Gold Star banners that have been up, and that was an emotional thing,” Lucas said. “To now bring in the Hometown Hero banners and to see those faces on them is really something special.”
Jim Robinson, New Palestine town manager, is the one who got the ball rolling to install the Hometown Hero banners up. After the town purchased the first two banners, New Palestine Main Street will handle the program from now on and will select the next veterans to honor. The banners will remain in place for a year.