TRAVERSE CITY — Tom Haase was surprised at just how much the National Cherry Festival’s Heroes Day Medallion meant to some Vietnam war veterans who were recognized at last year’s event.
Haase, a former Cherry Festival officer and one of the first people to back a special day for heroes, said feedback from veterans and others has been exceptionally positive.
“Here are guys who have earned real medals who are visibly moved at this recognition,” he said.
The fifth anniversary of Heroes Day salutes heroes of today and yesterday and pays tribute to festival-goers in all branches of the Armed Forces, firefighters, first responders, public safety, and Homeland Security personnel who receive the Festival Hero Medallion.
The event is today from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Open Space and also commemorates the Michigan National Guard, whose official militia man insignia graces the front of this year’s medallion.
The honor coincides with the 100th anniversary of Camp Grayling, the largest National Guard facility in the United States.
"The festival chooses a heroes group every year to represent all heroes,” Haase said, and added that other honored groups include WWII veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, Korean war veterans, firefighters, and Vietnam veterans.
Members of the Traverse City area Veteran’s Coalition, comprised of 30-plus veterans groups, will be on hand to distribute medals, said Trevor Tkach, festival executive director.
“We’ll distribute well over a thousand of them,” he said.
From 12:30 p.m. to 1:15 p.m., the Northwesten Michigan College Community Concert Band and Cherry Capital Men’s’ Chorus are scheduled to perform a medley of patriotic songs. A brief intermission is planned during which five local Blue Star Mothers will read names of their sons or daughters who are on active duty in the Armed Forces. Heroes Day Event Director Peter Asteris will speak and introduce Camp Grayling commander Col. Erich Randall.
Asteris will recognize the heroes by groups and said his planned comments are inspired by John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ask Not What Your Country Can Do” speech, on this 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death.
Many specialty vehicles are on display from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. including a hook and ladder truck and pumper truck from Traverse City and Metro fire departments, the Grand Traverse Sheriff Department’s canine unit and underwater recovery vehicle, the U.S. Coast Guard’s trailer with its rescue boat, a Michigan State Police cruiser, and four pieces of national guard equipment, including a rocket launcher, HUM-V, Army truck, and light armored vehicle.