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.”