Memorial Day events salute new recruits, veterans

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published May 17, 2017

 Clark W. LeMasters Jr.

Clark W. LeMasters Jr.

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — What had once been a single day of reflection and remembrance has now expanded into a week’s worth of activities dedicated to honoring and serving veterans and their families.

The War Memorial in Grosse Pointe Farms will be celebrating new military enlistees during Our Community Salutes May 23; raising funds for organizations that serve veterans during the gala An Evening of Red, White and Blue May 25; and saluting fallen veterans during the time-honored tradition that is the annual Memorial Day service May 29.

“We’ve got a lot of momentum and excitement,” said Joyce Russell, director of institutional advancement for The War Memorial. “It’s expanded over the last few years.”

The week will begin with the fourth annual Our Community Salutes, during which metro Detroit high school seniors who have enlisted in the military are invited to be honored publicly. The event is free, and the young enlistees can bring up to three family members or friends with them. It starts with a reception for the enlistees and their families at 6 p.m. May 23, followed by a public recognition ceremony at 7 p.m. The Motor City Brass Band will perform patriotic music, and Maj. Gen. Clark W. LeMasters Jr. will speak and administer the oath of office to the enlistees. Retired Col. Mary “Crickett” LeMasters will speak as well.

Because enlistees will be given certificates, they need to register for OCS no later than 5 p.m. May 22. But as to the ceremony itself, that’s open to anyone and no advance registration is necessary, said Brooks Hoste, manager of communications and programming for The War Memorial.

Hoste said War Memorial officials would like to see more members of the public during this event “to show appreciation (to the enlistees) for their commitment to our country.” Family members and friends of the enlistees are able to learn about resources available to them and what they can expect from having a loved one in the military. OCS is a national nonprofit, and there are services like this around the country, but this is the only one in Michigan.

“These kids come from all three (metro Detroit) counties,” said Denise Fry, manager of patriotic and community engagement for The War Memorial. “They’re not just Grosse Pointe kids. … We really want the public here (to acknowledge the enlistees).”

Hoste said members of the Grosse Pointe War Memorial Veterans Club and other local dignitaries are expected to be on hand for this event, which he said is “a moving ceremony.”

While her husband, U.S. Marine Corps Col. Benjamin P. Stinson, was stationed at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township, former Grosse Pointe Shores resident Toni Stinson organized the first Our Community Salutes event at The War Memorial four years ago, War Memorial officials said.

“The War Memorial is delighted to serve in a leadership role, honoring these young people who have made the commitment to serve and protect our nation,” War Memorial President and CEO Charles Burke said in a prepared statement. “Our Community Salutes represents our happiest day of the year, when we stand with the families of these brave young men and women as they prepare to take the next courageous step.”

The Wins for Warriors Foundation is sponsoring the week’s worth of events. The Wins for Warriors Foundation is a nonprofit veterans support organization that was established in 2013 by Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander. Verlander and the foundation will be honored with the Spirit of Community Award during the May 25 gala; Verlander can’t accept in person because the Tigers have a game that evening, but Wins for Warriors Foundation Executive Director and CEO Christie Williams will be on hand to accept it for him. U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, a veteran, will be given the Spirit of Service Award during the gala.

The gala was sold out at press time, but tickets were still available for the afterglow from 8:30 to 10 p.m. May 25 on the lakeside back lawn of The War Memorial. The afterglow will feature music by the Detroit Party Marching Band and Pro DJ Services, a coffee and sweets bar, an open bar and a fireworks display — sponsored by Tom and Carol Cracchiolo — over Lake St. Clair. Tickets to the afterglow cost $50 per person, and reservations are due by May 23. Tickets will not be available at the door.

“How cool is it to see a fireworks display on the lake in your backyard, along with music and camaraderie?” Russell said.

War Memorial Executive Chef Frank Turner will be preparing food for the gala and will be using some ingredients from Home Grown Heroes, a veteran-run farm program.

Afterglow guests are asked to pull into The War Memorial parking lot so that they can be directed to open parking spaces. Hoste said people who have mobility challenges can request a ride from their parking spot to the afterglow via a golf cart when they pull into the lot.

“Our team will direct (attendees) to the most convenient (available) parking spot,” he said.

There will be some chairs available, but afterglow attendees are welcome to bring their own chair or blanket, as there probably won’t be enough seating for everyone.

Money from the gala and afterglow goes to The War Memorial’s Patriot Initiative Fund, which Russell said supports internal programs like the Veterans Day breakfast and Our Community Salutes, along with providing grants to local veterans’ charities and groups like the Grosse Pointe War Memorial Veterans Club.

“It’s a party and it’s fun, but it’s … all about the veterans,” Russell said.

The gala raised more than $100,000 in its first year, about $75,000 apiece over the last two years, and has already raised roughly $131,000 this year, Russell said.

The week will be capped off by the 68th annual Memorial Day program on the back lawn, which will start at 10 a.m. May 29 and is free and open to the public.

“We all come together a few days later in a spirit of solemnity and reverence,” Hoste said, referring to the Memorial Day service.

A flyover, weather-permitting, from Selfridge is slated to take place, along with readings of the names of all fallen Grosse Pointe service members. The service, which will last about an hour to 90 minutes, will feature patriotic music from the Motor City Brass Band and other local musicians, the Ritual Firing Team of Veterans of Foreign Wars Bruce Post 1146, local Scout troops, an honor guard and many other local military groups, clubs and local officials. Maj. Gen. David G. Bassett, U.S. Army program executive officer for ground combat systems, will deliver the keynote address.

Fry estimated that the Memorial Day program last year attracted more than 450 attendees, which doesn’t include the dozens of local organizations and officials who take part in the event.

“Of all of the events I’ve done here, that was my all-time favorite to witness,” Fry said. “It’s beautiful.”

Veterans attending the service often don their uniforms, and attendees are given small American flags to hold and wave with pride.

“The annual Memorial Day service is one of The War Memorial’s most cherished and reverent events,” Burke said in a prepared statement. “We’re honored to pay grateful tribute to our nation’s valiant defenders — those men and women who have championed the cause of justice, freedom and human integrity. Their patriotism and courage preserved, and now serve, to enrich the life of our great nation. That The War Memorial can play a part in honoring these patriots is humbling.”

All events take place rain or shine.

The War Memorial is located at 32 Lake Shore Road in Grosse Pointe Farms. To register or for more information about Our Community Salutes, call Fry at (313) 332-4056. To purchase tickets or for more information about the afterglow for An Evening of Red, White and Blue, call (313) 332-4075. For more about the Memorial Day service or any of the Memorial Week events, visit www.warmemorial.org.