Grace Lutheran hosting 25th annual Veterans Service

Grace Lutheran Church of Austin will be hosting its 25th annual Veterans Service at 9 a.m. on Sunday, May 19.

This service, which honors veterans and those currently serving, is open to anybody who would like to stop by and witness the powerful program and simply say “thank you.”

“This service is held to honor the veterans of our community,” said Randy Mickelson, a veteran himself, who is helping organize the event. “It’s not a strongly religious service, we just want to honor those veterans. We want as many here as possible.”

For 24 years, Grace Lutheran has been hosting this special service, which started with a simple enough thought by long-time organizer Lavona Johnson and her husband who served in the Navy during World War II.

“We felt we should honor the service people,” she said. “We talked to a few people and just got it started.”

Over those 24 years, Johnson related how poignant the service is for veterans to be recognized and the effect it has on all parties involved.

“It’s pretty powerful,” Johnson said.

She then related a story of a Vietnam veteran a few years ago who was among those honored. She told the story of a man going through the ceremony with tears in his eyes.

“This is the very first time I have ever been acknowledged for being in the service,” the veteran later said to Johnson.

Mickelson, who is also a Vietnam veteran, testified to the power of the service. Having spoken multiple times at the event, he said it’s gratifying to know that people are out there that care enough to say “thanks.”

“I was just amazed at the outpouring of thankfulness,” he said. “It’s pretty special when they come up. It’s a pretty emotional experience.”

This year’s featured speaker is retired First Sgt. John Pitzen, who grew up near Rose Creek and served in the United States Army for 22 years.

Pitzen, who served in Germany, Korea, Iraq and Bosnia, will talk about his experiences in the various countries in which he served.

While the exact nature of the speech is unknown, like those in years past, Mickelson thinks Pitzen will talk about what those in the military are giving up in order to serve.

“He’ll talk in a general sense about the sacrifice of being in the military,” Mickelson said.

Another big part of the service will be the recognition of those who have served in the past and who are still serving today. With each branch of the military, a flag representing that branch will be raised as well as the playing of each branch’s song.

All the flags are owned by another veteran, Wayne Bonnes.

Everybody is invited to both the service and the social to follow.

“It’s very non-denominational,” Mickelson said.

Johnson added what she tells veterans every year: “See you next year.”

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