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In Gratitude for Service

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Photos by Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette

Stuart Hatfield, center, of the Fort Wayne Scottish Pipes & Drums, plays with Matt Crawford, left, and Jon Cutler of the Fort Wayne Police Pipe & Drum Brigade on Friday at the Coliseum.

Published: October 4, 2008 6:00 a.m.

In gratitude for service

Veterans who have ‘given so much' thanked at rally

Becky Manley
The Journal Gazette

As a pastor prayed for soldiers, many among a crowd of more than 200 people at Memorial Coliseum bowed their heads, clasped hands and some fought tears.

“Each service person here has given so much,” Pastor Lois Watkins said. “We are indebted to their service.”

The prayer was part of the opening ceremony for the sixth annual Military Appreciation Party and Freedom Rally, conducted Friday to honor service members and veterans.

The evening included live music by various bands as well entertainment by a comedian.

Organizer Rick Stephens said the event began as a welcome-home party for his son’s unit when it returned from Iraq, then expanded to all branches of service and veterans.

Seated near the stage was Vicki Aldridge, 39, and her three daughters, each of whom wore a red, white and blue headband with stars lit by tiny flashing red bulbs.

Aldridge, from Fort Wayne, said her son, Aron Aldridge, 21, is in the Air Force stationed in Japan.

“I’m pretty proud,” Aldridge said about her son. “He’s just an awesome kid.”

Among the crowd, members of Warriors at Home, a group that supports the 221st Ordnance Company, based in Fort Wayne, could be seen in red T-shirts.

The backs of the shirts carried yellow ribbons and the name of a relative in the service.

In addition to supporting the unit’s members, group member Kim Ross, 40, of Fort Wayne, said members also support one another.

“I don’t know how I would survive without them,” Ross said. “They literally are my lifeline.”

Ross said her husband, Robert Ross, 42, has been in Kuwait for 200 days. He was previously deployed to Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005.

Kim Ross, who said she and her husband have three daughters ages 8, 10 and 14, said she is proud of her husband.

“Obviously, we miss him,” Ross said.

Carrying two U.S. flags and wearing a Colts scarf, Ron Maloney, 71, of Fort Wayne, said he worked on military aircraft while serving in the Air National Guard during the 1950s and 1960s.

Maloney, who said more people should be involved in events like Friday’s celebration, said it’s important to be patriotic.

“I just wanted to support everybody who is a veteran.”

Air Force veteran Jim Loehr salutes at the opening of the Military Appreciation Party and Freedom Rally.





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