Manhattan — ‘He’s Right There’ — Veterans Honored With Banner Ceremony

Residents of all ages turned out for Manhattan Township’s inaugural “I Honor” Hometown Heroes banner ceremony on May 26.
Residents of all ages turned out for Manhattan Township’s inaugural “I Honor” Hometown Heroes banner ceremony on May 26.

By Stephanie Irvine

A last-minute venue change due to inclement weather didn’t stop a crowd from packing the Manhattan Township building for the “I Honor” Hometown Heroes banner ceremony held May 26.

Manhattan’s banner program is in its inaugural year, with 18 banners bearing the photo and name of a military veteran whose banner application was drawn from a lottery. Manhattan American Legion Post 935 led the event.

“We have great people in this Post who are dedicated to honoring our veterans, those who served, and giving them the right honor,” said Post Commander Bob Metzger.

The banners are hung on light poles on Route 52, Baker and Smith roads, and Eastern Avenue through Veterans Day, and families have the option to keep the banners when they come down.

“They did a really great job doing this, and it was great to see the town show up. The town is growing, and so is our post. We are very lucky to have dedicated individuals involved in the Post doing things like this,” Metzger added.

The brief ceremony included comments from Manhattan Mayor Mike Adrieansen, who helped spearhead the program, a prayer from the Rev. Mike McMahon, remarks from the Post Chaplain John Kestel, and the reading of names of those whose banners are displayed by Post member Josh Grenard.

The ceremony began with the Pledge of Allegiance and concluded with the National Anthem.

“They say Hometown Heroes,” Kestel began his remarks.

“Well, a hero is anybody who takes extra time and does something for good. So, if you were in the military, you are a hero. You took at least two years off of your life to leave town and your family to go and serve. Even if you were a supply clerk or you served on the front lines. You did what you were told to do. You are a hero.”

Adrieansen thanked the village board, public works department, and the American Legion for their work getting the banner program installed in town. He also made a point to thank veterans for their service.

“It was a huge honor for Manhattan, for the Auxiliary to take this on,” said Diane Barnes Maguire, who submitted a banner application in honor of her father who served in the Army during Vietnam.

“My dad had been in the Honor Guard, had been very active, and so we were very happy when we found out that he had been picked in the lottery. He loved serving Manhattan, and he loved serving the veterans.

“This is a huge honor for any veteran to have their banner displayed for their hometown,” Barnes Maguire explained.

Families, friends of veterans, and veterans gathered for the short ceremony, some sharing stories afterward. Members of the Legion’s Honor Guard were present in dress attire.

“It touches my heart,” said Nancy Dominik of the banner honoring her late husband, Benjamin. “Every time I go by it, he’s right there. It was a great ceremony.”

Dominik attended the ceremony with her family, along with one of her husband’s longtime friends, John Heinz. Heinz and Dominik had served together.

Although the “I Honor” banner ceremony was performed ahead of Memorial Day, the banners honored veterans, both still living and those who have passed.

Richard “Dick” Smerz, who served in the United States Navy during the Korean War, was honored by his daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren with the banner, a surprise for his 93rd birthday.

Smerz’s wife, Lillian, to whom he has been married for 69 years, was in on the surprise, too. After the ceremony, Smerz and family stopped by where his banner is hung to take pictures.

When asked how Smerz felt about the banner and ceremony, he said that, “It was good,” before taking pause as tears gathered in his eyes, noting that it brought back many memories.

Smerz told how he served on an aircraft carrier that was a prime target during the Korean War. They were shot at, and he lost shipmates. For him, the ceremony and banners were about more than himself.

“I hope the younger generation respects the military,” Smerz added.

After the ceremony, Adrieansen said the banners were “a great addition to the community, being able to pay tribute to those who have served our country and live in the Manhattan area.”

Adrieansen also added that this event and others like it are great opportunities to let the community know that Manhattan has an American Legion Post.

“It was great that everyone came out on a day like today, especially with the rain. It’s good to see everybody,” said Harry Budd of the American Legion.

Budd added that the Post offers a great support system for the local veterans.

“As a new resident of Manhattan, to see the turnout that we had today, and as a combat veteran whose friends who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, to see this many people turn out on a rainy day and be here to support us and local veterans was awesome,” said Grenard who read the names during the ceremony.

“It’s unusual these days. So just to see the crowd here for the first time was really compelling. It means a lot. We thank everyone for coming out,” Grenard added.

The program was very popular, and the Legion received several applications beyond the 18 banner locations available.

“I wish we had 100 or 1,000 (light)posts out there. We appreciate everything you did,” said Kestel to the crowd.

Applications for banners that didn’t get pulled in the lottery this year will be the first to be hung next year.

Stephanie Irvine is a freelance reporter. Photos by Stephanie Irvine.

United States Navy Korean War Veteran Richard “Dick” Smerz poses in front of his banner, which was a surprise 93rd birthday gift from his grandchildren.

Manhattan Mayor Mike Adrieansen, John Kestel, Manhattan American Legion Post 935 Post Chaplain, and Post Member Josh Grenard bow their heads during the ceremony.

John Kestel, Manhattan American Legion Post 935 Post Chaplain, delivers remarks during the ceremony as Post Member Josh Grenard looks on.

 

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