By BRADEN LAMMERS
UTICA — A small crowd of people gathered on a warm, cloudless Saturday to celebrate men and women in uniform.
Utica’s Hillcrest Cemetery hosted its annual Veterans Day program Saturday afternoon, which also marked the U.S. Marine Corps’ 237 birthday, and was the dedication of the cemetery as the first historic cemetery in Clark County.
The Rev. Jim Calvert said the purpose of the ceremony was to thank all veterans of the U.S. military.
“Even though we’re here in this cemetery today, we don’t just honor those who have passed on, we honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice ...[and] thank the living veterans for dedicated and loyal service to their country,” he said. “Some have made the ultimate sacrifice, but all were willing. [We gathered] to let them know how much we appreciate their service to this great country of ours we owe them a great deal of gratitude for their sacrifice.”
Calvert, a U.S. Navy veteran of Vietnam, said, “I have a special place in my heart for veterans because I don’t think they are appreciated nearly enough.”
He explained experiences of veterans being degraded when they returned from the Vietnam War, but added that he was proud to see the treatment and response to veterans has changed for those returning from the conflicts in the Middle East.
“It’s so heartwarming to see that the people now have a greater respect for the military than they used to have,” he said.
Of those veterans on-hand at the ceremony, 14 were veterans of various conflicts that spanned from World War II, the Korean War, to Vietnam and made up the Charlestown American Legion Post 335 Color Guard and Veterans of Foreign Wars post 1427.
Capt. Tom Cook, a U.S. Navy veteran of Vietnam and member of the legion, said the group had already participated in a ceremony earlier in the day in Jeffersonville’s Warder Park and came to Utica, in part, to make sure all veterans are recognized.
“It’s a way of saying thank you to all veterans, because in our opinion, anybody that has donned the uniform, that means they were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the country,” he said. “In our opinion they’re heroes. All of them.”
He added that the group, which has been in existence for 65 years, wants to make sure any veteran in the area has the opportunity to have full military honors.
“They deserve it,” he said.
The cemetery association has an annual celebration at the site on Veterans Day, and this year the group also celebrated Hillcrest Cemetery being recognized as Clark County’s first historic cemetery in Clark County, which will be listed in Indiana’s Cemetery and Burial Grounds Registry of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
Curtis Wells, with the Utica Preservation Association, said the effort to gain the designation began about a year ago. A marker noting the designation will be placed at the bottom of the hill leading into the cemetery.
“This is a place where we can all come ...to learn about our history,” he said.