Local veterans use Memorial Day to unite, raise awareness

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INDIANAPOLIS — As the nation prepares to honor fallen servicemen and women, organizations are preparing to do the same here at home.

“This is America’s holiday,” said Paul Norton, American Legion District 11 Chair and Vice Commander of the Historic Ft. Benjamin Harrison American Legion Post 510, “This is America’s time to honor our fallen dead.”

Several American Legions will host Memorial Day events and services, including Robert E. Kennington Post 34.

Post 34 will observe the holiday with a ceremony, flag retirement and playing of “Taps”. There will also be live music and food at its facility on 2210 East 54th Street in Indianapolis.

The event, which runs from noon to 5 p.m. Monday, is open the public. You do not have to be a post member to attend.

In a time where there’s unrest and divide, Norton says he’s hopeful many will use the holiday as an opportunity to come together while honoring the ultimate sacrifice.

“This is going to be a time where we can kind of sit back and heal a little bit from so much of the negative that’s going on,” said Norton, “and I’m hoping that also it’ll be a time that some people, that are having issues, can just kind of lay down their anger and focus on the good things.”

Among other groups and organizations observing Memorial Day is the Indy Metropolitan Military Honor Guard. The group, made up of about 25 veteran volunteers, perform military honors at funeral services throughout the state and surrounding areas.

They’ll be performing duties at two services on Monday.

Commander Ron Montague says they roughly perform about 500 honors every year. May, which they call “Memorial Month”, is among the busiest times, with a little more than 60 honor and color guard services already performed during the month alone.

“It’s an incredible way, and an incredible time, for us to really stop, slow down and understand why we celebrate Memorial Day and through the month of May,” said Montague.

Despite the numerous services they’ve performed, Montague says many families still aren’t aware they can get free military honors for a loved one.

“That law was actually passed in 2001, that stipulates that all active military, or military veterans, with honorable discharges, should receive this honor,” he said, “Even with that law being passed, for some reason, we still find people that aren’t aware, or did not know, that their deceased loved one, who is a veteran, are afforded these honors.”

IMMHG also works with funeral homes and directors to educate families on the services available. Even if a family was unaware of the military honors option, they can still do it, even if a loved one is already buried.

“We get the request to do somewhat like a memorial honor, and we do several of those as well,” said Montague.

Families can request military honors from IMMHG online.

Montague also hopes to use Memorial Day as an opportunity to raise awareness on an alarming trend. That’s as veteran suicides continue to increase, especially within Memorial Month.

“I would say, on an estimate, probably 15 percent of our services have been suicide,” he said, “and we’re seeing a lot more of them. Unfortunately, most of them are active military, they’re still in the service when, unfortunately, this is happening.”

“Being a Vietnam veteran, I know that what I dealt with was different than the Korean War vets, or the World War II vets,” he added, “We are obviously seeing a difference in this Gulf War and this Afghanistan vet. It seems like there’s a whole other set of problems. With that, we’ve seen this horrific suicide rate, in the veteran world, climb extensively and sadly.”

Montague says it’s a troubling trend as there are plenty of resources out there, but a disconnect in making sure people impacted get the help they need.

He says part of the issue is veterans need to reach out if they’re hurting, and families also need to stay vigilant in looking after their loved one.

“If that veteran isn’t reaching out to anybody, or showing signs of problems, there lies another issue,” he said, “but the families need to figure out, need to notice it, need to ask questions of their loved one and understand what they may be going through.”

Montague says some signs, especially if the loved one is active, could be personality changes in letters and phone calls, lack of communication and social withdrawal.

For resources, Montague recommends MACV, which is the Mayor’s Advisory Council for Veterans.

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