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WWII, Vietnam veterans lead parade as grand marshals

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WELCOME:Vietnam Veteran Mike Lovett welcomes the public to the parade.
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GRAND:The grand marshalls rode in convertibles at the beginning of the parade.
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PARADE:WWII veteranWilliam Mehling waves to the crowd during the parade.
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VETERANS: Veterans came wrapped in blankets to watch the parade.

by Grace Hooley, ghooley@chronicle-tribune.com

The VA Northern Indiana Healthcare System Marion Campus honored two veterans as grand marshals in the annual Veterans Day Parade on Friday.

World War II Veteran William Mehling and Vietnam Veteran Mike Lovett rode in separate convertibles at the front of the parade processional behind the Navy Operational Support Center (NOSC) Indianapolis color guard.

“A warm heartfelt thank you from the bottom of my heart and also all of the leadership here at Northern Indiana Healthcare System. Thank you very much,” director of operations Phil Shealey said.

The VA residents sat outside covered in blankets to keep warm as they were celebrated by 42 floats and local businesses.

Chief of Mental Health Helen Rhodes announced each float as the participants offered candy and thanks to those who served.

This was Mehling’s first time in a parade, and he laughed while noting that it was too cold to be riding in a convertible. He said he served more than three years in the Army, stationed in Europe during WWII. Mehling could only describe Veterans Day with one word.

“Special,” he said. “It’s a tribute to all of us veterans over all the years that they’ve served their country. And everybody is a veteran, even though they stayed behind during the wars. We needed them at home to keep everything up and keep it going. So, it’s for everybody.”

Mehling said he hopes the parade had a favorable impact on the community and the veterans who attended. His family came to support him in this celebration as well.

“I think it’s an honor to have my dad in the parade, and especially that he has lived this long and can tell us about it and that it’s honoring him,” Ginger Fisher, Mehling’s daughter, said.

Lovett compared himself to the character Radar O’Reilly from the television show “M*A*S*H*.” He was stationed in Uijeongbu, South Korea, the same place the television show takes place. 

Lovett recalled how on the TV show, O’Reilly was sending a Jeep home part by part, and Lovett said they would do funny things like this as well.

“To get stuff, sometimes you had to beg, borrow and steal,” Lovett said.

South Korea was fun, according to Lovett. He was right outside of Camp Red Cloud, which was the communication center where he was stationed with the Army.

He found it a historical place because of the M*A*S*H* outfit, and said he enjoyed his time there. The parade was a special treat for him, not because of his part in it, but because of the part others played, he said.

“It was great,” Lovett said. “I just was real proud. I knew a lot of those guys that were out there sitting. I was more honored about them being there than myself. It seems like each year it gets to be more and more.”

As with many Vietnam veterans, Lovett said he did not receive the kindest greeting after returning home from three years of service. He said the veterans were ignored, and some were nervous to even go to the veterans organizations out of fear they would be ignored there too.

He said when they got home, they were called terms such as “baby killers.” This is why recognition now from the general public is especially healing, according to Lovett.

“When I came back from Vietnam, I was really disappointed, and you know, it was like we didn’t exist,” Lovett said. “But I’m glad that these guys now get some recognition … It’s just nice our country has come around and not rejected us.”

He was a resident at the VA Northern Indiana Healthcare System after knee surgery, and said his treatment and care was excellent. The staff and nurses treated the residents like gold, according to Lovett.

Lovett thanked Rhodes for her involvement in the parade. He said he respected those who attended and those who were involved, including the residents themselves.

“It’s a reminder of how much we owe our veterans a debt of gratitude for everything they’ve done, and these (grand marshals) are two sterling examples of people who sacrificed so much for the good of our country. It’s an honor for me to honor them,” Rhodes said.