Grace Lutheran to honor veterans

Published 7:34 am Friday, May 18, 2012

Veteran and congregation member Randy Michelson will speak at Sunday's service devoted to veterans.

Veterans from all over the Austin area will congregate at Grace Lutheran Church Sunday for a special service devoted to them.

“The goal behind it is to honor the veterans, the deceased and the living,” said Lavona Johnson.

The annual special service begins at 9:30 a.m. To start, the color guard will present flags for each branch of the military. The service will include patriotic hymns and each military branch’s song, while members of that branch are recognized.

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“When all of the veterans have gone forward, it’s pretty lonely in the pews,” Johnson said.

While those who have not served use the event to show their appreciation, Grace Lutheran Pastor Jeff Forbes said it is a sentimental time for veterans themselves.

“They’re remembering fallen comrades,” he said. “They served their country and they’re proud of it.”

Veteran and congregation member Randy Michelson, who served for two years during the Vietnam era, will be the guest speaker. Michelson will talk about the way society has regarded veterans.

“Veterans haven’t always felt welcome,” he said. “I’m going to start back at the Revolutionary War and come forward.” The Vietnam War, he added, was one example where many people blamed the troops rather than the war.

Ultimately, Michelson said, he will speak about those serving today. He said one problem with honoring veterans is that some don’t consider their role honorable, “because they weren’t actually in battle.”

But combat isn’t necessary to being a veteran, said Norman Hecimovich, president of the Veterans Memorial Committee. For every person fighting, it takes six to eight people to support them. The same consideration goes for military rites given to non-combat service members during funerals.

“Anybody who ever served the United States Military and was honorably discharged is entitled to a military burial,” Hecimovich said.

Hecimovich was a guest speaker during a Grace Lutheran veteran’s service in the past. He served a year in Korea, three years in Vietnam and later in the Persian Gulf War.

During his speech at Sunday’s service, Michelson also plans to talk about his father-in-law, a veteran. His father-in-law experienced some horrors in combat that he wanted to block from memory, Michelson said. For a long time Michelson didn’t know he was a veteran, and was surprised to find that out.

“He was not only honorably discharged, but received a medal,” he said.

On Sunday, the color guard also will have a flag recognizing America’s prisoners of war and missing-in-action.

“We pray for them because there are 84,000 Americans that are unaccounted for,” said Michelson.

The customary POW/MIA table will be assembled, which symbolizes those who are prisoners or still missing. Each detail at the table, from the empty plate to the lit candle, speaks to a different aspect of the missing service member’s experience. Hecimovich said he didn’t think a lot of people understood the meaning of that symbol.

The church welcomes everyone, whether they belong to another congregation or not.

The church is nearly filled during veterans services each year, Johnson said. Refreshments and a visiting period will follow the service.

As for the veterans themselves, Johnson said, they are “very pleased” with the service, and often will shed tears of joy.

“Every veteran feels very comfortable coming and participating,” Hecimovich said.

The special service will end on a hopeful note.

“We finish with ‘Let There Be Peace on Earth,’” Forbes said. “Because that’s the purpose.”