Chesterton Tribune

Call for service at Rotary Veterans Day program

Back to Front Page






This nation’s veterans have given unstintingly of themselves and have sacrificed much, or everything.

It is only right and proper, then, that the debt we owe them we pay in kind, with service of our own.

That was the message of Episcopalian Bishop Francis Gray—elected the Sixth Bishop of the Northern Indiana District Diocese in 1986—at the Chesterton/Porter Rotary Club’s annual Veterans Day program on Tuesday.

Gray is himself a veteran—he served in the U.S. Marine Corps, 1958-61, as a machine gunner, in what he called “an undistinguished but active career”—but it was as a young internee of the Japanese in the occupied Philippines during World War II that Gray learned something of war and deprivation and went into debt himself: to the troops who clawed their way through the Pacific before finally liberating Gray’s family and everyone else brutalized in the “Great East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.”

Gray’s memories of his two and a half years in the civilian POW camp are dim, he said. He was only a young child. But he knows that the missionaries in the camp—like his parents—along with the doctors and nurses and ex-patriot miners caught in the Japanese dragnet formed a camaraderie, established a school where the camp’s 100 children—of a total population of 650—received an excellent education, and made do in the face of want and sickness.

“It was a time of privation but also of growing,” Gray recalled.

When the war did turn against the Japanese, things in the camp got worse, of course. Their jailers hadn’t much food of their own and the internees even less. So it was nearly a miracle when the American Red Cross got a shipment of food into the camp: 53 pounds of it for every man, woman, and child.

Yet even so “we were starving toward the end,” Gray said, his strapping 6’ 2’’ father dropping to only 120 pounds. “My father opened the last tin of Red Cross food on the day we were liberated.”

Debts, Gray said: he incurred a few in that camp. To the soldiers and marines, the sailors and the pilots, who bled and died. To the Red Cross. To his fellow internees as well.

But all of us have incurred debts, Gray added, suggesting that a compulsory program for young adults who don’t enlist in the Armed Forces—something along the lines of the old Civilian Conservation Corps—might not be a bad idea. “We are called to be committed, motivated, and focused,” he said. “We are called to give back. It is important to be able to give back.”

And to the Rotary’s veterans Gray said this: “I remember the civilian internees weeping when we passed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge in the San Francisco Bay. I want to thank you for your service. I want to thank this country for rescuing me from the horrors of a prison camp.”

Rotary Vets

Earlier in the program, Rotary’s veteran members were honored: Mike Anton (USA); Thomas Archbald (USAF); Phil Baugher (USMC); Kurt Blumenthal (USAF Reserves); Warren Canright (USA, Bronze Star); Ralph Caron (USA); Robert Dunbar (USAF); Rick Hokanson (USA); John Marshall (USN); David Perry (USN); and Bernie Doyle (USAF).

Also honored, Tuesday’s veteran guests: Christopher Buckley (USMC); Pat Doyle (USMC); Andy Michel (USN); John Marshall Sr. (USN, pilot); and Sig Niepokoj (USMC).

Some of the veterans brought memorabilia to the luncheon, including Canright—publisher of the Chesterton Tribune—whose Eisenhower jacket still fits him.


In addition, six Chesterton Middle School students presented works of art created to commemorate Veterans Day.

Joy Joll and Wesley Slaughter: a collage of photos of family members and friends in uniform, against a background of newspaper headlines from the low points and high ones of wars past. “Freedom is not free,” Joll said. “There is a price to pay. We wanted to say Thank you, because you paid the price to keep this country safe,” while others “paid a greater price.”

John Mario and Sam Thornton: a painting of the Liberty Bell. “To us it represents freedom,” Mario said, “and the crack that freedom is not always perfect.” Mario also remembered Spc. John Butz, U.S. Army, who gave his all on Sept. 28 in Afghanistan while rushing to give aid to two fallen comrades. “He exemplifies the type of young men and women who give so much in their country’s service.”

Eric Richardson and Caylee Casbon: a painting of words judged by their classmates to articulate those rights and institutions defended unto the death by the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces, with the size of the words reflecting students’ consensus on their relative importance: “Freedom” the largest on the canvas, with “Religion,” “Speech,” “Protest,” “Vote,” “Liberty,” and “Family.”


Dr. Dan Keilman opened the program with an invocation paying tribute to “the overlooked heroes”: “Blessed are the peacemakers but Lord remind us that peace is not always free.”

The Chesterton Police Department’s Honor Guard then trooped the colors, with Kelsey Neiswinger of Chesterton High School’s Interact leading attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance and Rotary member Will Lewis in “America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee)” and the National Anthem.

The South Shore Brass Band also provided a selection of patriotic music.

This year’s program was organized by David Hiestand and Heather Olson.


Posted 11/10/2011