Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 2, 2013

Heroes honored at Cherry Festival

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Charlie Johnston, a Vietnam veteran, was one of many heroes at the Open Space who handed out medallions to his other heroes and small American flags to those who entered the Open Space.

Johnston works for Cherryland Electric Cooperative, the sponsor of Heroes Day, a National Cherry Festival salute to military heroes, past and present, as well as first responders.

“It’s not just the military, but the police, the firemen, EMT, the whole gamut. We appreciate the first responders,” Johnston said. “We are especially thinking of the firemen in Arizona today.”

Nineteen members of an elite fire crew were killed Sunday, when gusty, hot winds blew an Arizona blaze out of control Sunday in a forest northwest of Phoenix. It was the deadliest wildfire involving firefighters in the U.S. for at least 30 years.

On Monday, veterans greeted and hugged each other on this 5th anniversary of Heroes Day. Several gathered under a white canopy with folding chairs, tables, and a hefty supply of flags and medallions that honored the Michigan National Guard — the heroes group called out this year for special recognition.

Richard Rizzio, almost 89 years old, chatted about the fact that more than 600 World War II veterans die each day. He helped liberate France, took part in the Battle of the Bulge, and ended up in Germany, where his unit came upon “Hitler’s den” in the Bavarian Alps.

“This day is neat,” he said. “We remember those who didn’t make it.”

John Lefler, 65, was in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. He was particularly exuberant as he handed out medallions.

“I think (Heroes Day) is absolutely wonderful for the military vets and first responders,” he said. “It acknowledges what they do for their country. Every last one needs to be recognized, and this is a small way to do it.”

Organizers predicted that 1,000 medals would be passed out Monday, many to veterans visiting from out of town.

Several area Blue Star Moms — moms and stepmoms of those serving in the active military — also played a part in Monday’s events. They were to read names of their sons or daughters during a brief intermission following a performance of the Northwestern Michigan College Community Concert Band and the Cherry Capital Men’s Chorus.

“A lot of times people don’t understand military families and the stress they go through,” said Sue Raven, founder of the state’s northernmost Blue Star Moms chapter. “All my friends here are very supportive.”

Raven’s son, Paul, has served as a Special Forces medic in Afghanistan since the first of the year.

The moms gathered together at the Open Space prior to the ceremony. Beth Nussdorfer of Traverse City said recognition of the group isn’t so important.

“I am more proud they’re honoring the soldiers,” said Nussdorfer, whose son, Nick, an Army captain, isn’t currently deployed, after he served two tours in Afghanistan and Baghdad.