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WISH-TV is proud to once again be the broadcast partner for the American Legion 500 Festival Memorial Service in this, the 60th year. This is an opportunity to pause and come together to pay a special tribute to those Indiana men and women and their loved ones who sacrificed so much protecting the freedoms we all enjoy today.  

The service originated live from the north steps of the Indiana War Memorial in downtown Indianapolis and includes the posting of colors by the Military Department of Indiana’s Joint Service Color Guard.  The Capital City Chorus, directed by Kimberly Newcomb, and the Indiana National Guard 38th Infantry Division Band, under the direction of Chief Warrant Officer Four Patrick L. Palumbo, performed.

A Military Funeral Procession was presented by the Indiana National Guard Headquarters Ceremonial Unit entering under a Garrison flag courtesy of the Indianapolis Fire Department. 

The guest speaker was Brigadier General Marcus B. Annibale, U.S. Marine Corps.  

The A-10 “Warthog” flyover was conducted by the airmen of the 122nd Fighter Wing, 163rd Fighter Squadron, Indiana Air National Guard, known as the “Blacksnakes,” based out of Fort Wayne, Indiana.   

Thank you to our presenting sponsor, the American Legion, supporting sponsors One American and Rolls-Royce, and to the Indiana War Memorial for hosting this service. And we especially thank all those watching for joining us for the American Legion 500 Festival Memorial Service without commercial interruption.  The emcee for this years’ service is WISH-TV’s Phil Sanchez.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — This November, we’re celebrating heroes.

These are veterans, active military and their families who serve our country and our communities. We’ll meet a local organization that is helping veterans make their dreams of running their own business a reality.

And we also visit a veteran-owned and operated fencing business using lessons learned during service to make a difference in their community.

We will also introduce you to World War II veteran honored for his heroism on the field of battle, and at the age of 100, is still a hero to his family.

We find out how a grassroots group in Marion is shining a light in remembrance of Hoosier veterans and we take a look into the history of Toys for Tots celebrating their 75th year of being holiday heroes for kids in need.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — After more than eight decades, a family from Indiana recently got the chance to say goodbye to a sailor killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Francis Hannon, or “Bud,” as he was called, grew up in Middletown, a Henry County community of about 2,300 people.

Francis Hannon. (Provided Photo/US Navy)

In 1939, Hannon went to Indianapolis and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He, like much of his family at the time, felt it was his duty to serve his country, relatives tell News 8.

Hannon was stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where he served as a Shipfitter 3rd Class aboard a battleship called the USS Oklahoma. He served on the Oklahoma for two years and was out of harm’s way — much to the delight of his mother.

But when Hannon, then just 20 years old, went to bed on Dec. 6, 1941, he had no idea that the next day would be his last.

The Oklahoma, with Hannon on board, was one of the ships destroyed or damaged by Japanese forces in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.

The battleship was hit by multiple Japanese torpedoes. It capsized, resulting in the deaths of Hannon and 428 other crewmen. Overall, the attack killed 2,403 U.S. personnel.

“When Bud went to bed on Saturday night, he was in paradise and we were not at war, and the next morning, before noon, he was gone,” John Reddington, Hannon’s cousin, said.

Reddington and Vanessa Hannon Helming are Hannon’s cousins, although they were born years after Hannon’s death.

Helming says her dad, also Hannon’s cousin, learned of his death a short time after the attack.

“My dad was in California, waiting to meet Bud on his R&R. That’s when Pearl Harbor got hit, and my dad said he knew in his heart that Bud was killed and that he would never see him again,” Helming said.

Hannon’s relatives say his death was hard on the family because his body could not be identified after the battleship capsized.

An attempt to identify the remains in 1947 resulted in the identification of just 35 crewmembers from the Oklahoma. Those who could not be identified, including Hannon, were classified as “non-recoverable” and buried at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, also known as the Punchbowl.

“Of course, back then, the family was so much closer than they are today, but it really took a toll on them,” Helming said.

In 2015, personnel from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, an agency that works to account for the country’s missing and unaccounted-for military personnel, exhumed the remains of the Hannon and other unidentified sailors.

Scientists identified Hannon using dental, anthropological, and mitochondrial DNA analysis. He was accounted for on Aug. 28, 2017, but it wasn’t until recently that Hannon’s family learned of the news.

Reddington says It was an opportunity for the family to get the closure that was long overdue.

“Our parents who were directly involved in that conflict survived. Bud never had the chance to have that family, and have his family members enjoy that life, so the least the rest of us can do and have the obligation to do, is to remember and honor him,” Reddington said.

The family was flown out to Hawaii, and on Oct. 13, they attended Hannon’s interment at the Punchbowl, 81 years after his tragic death.

“It was just a wonderful thing to be able to finally go back and represent the family, to give him the honors he deserved 81 years ago,” Reddington said.

Helming says it was emotional in many different ways and, while it originally started as a way to honor their parents, they quickly felt an attachment to a man they never really knew.

“I just got overcome with emotion, and it was for Bud. If other people had not done what they did, and gave the ultimate sacrifice, like Bud, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” said Helming said.

Finally, after 81 years, an Indiana sailor got the goodbye he deserved so long ago.

SEYMOUR, IND. (WISH) — From the outside, the Freeman Army Airfield Museum may not look like much, but the inside is packed to the brim with history.

Larry Bothe is a Vietnam veteran. He’s also the museum’s curator. To him, preserving all of this history is priceless.

“We get two reactions. One of them is, “I didn’t know there was a museum here,” and then they go, “Oh my God, I had no idea you had all this neat stuff,'” Bothe said.

From 1942 to 1948, Freeman Army Airfield trained more than 4,000 pilots for the U.S. Army Air Corps. It’s also the site of one of the most vital events in civil rights history: the Freeman Field Mutiny.

Toward the end of 1944, the Army Air Corps’ 477th Bombardment Group, known as the Tuskegee Airmen, was transferred to Freeman Field. They were there for only five weeks, but their legacy has lasted a lifetime.

The bomb group had an emblem that depicted four bombs and seven bullets, according to Reg DuValle, a member of the Indianapolis Tuskegee Airmen Chapter, an organization dedicated to preserving the history of African Americans who served during World War II.

“It’s four bombs, seven bullets — 477th. It says, ‘Our hearts with our country, our eyes on the target.’ That tells the story of the airmen. It wasn’t just about the enemy; it was about changing the working and living situation for African Americans.”

477th Bombardment Group unit emblem. (Provided Photo/Dept. of Defense)

“That was a part of the double victory campaign that all African Americans were fighting: against fascism overseas and against the type of treatment they were receiving here with the hope of more full participation in the American dream,” said DuValle.

That battle for equality took center stage in Seymour when, in March of 1945, a group of Black officers at Freeman Field attempted to enter a whites-only officers club on base.

Freeman Field had two officers’ clubs, one for white officers and one for Black officers, because, at the time, the U.S. military was segregated by race.

More than 100 Tuskegee Airmen were arrested after they refused to sign an order stating they would not enter. Their defiant moment was captured secretly in a photo by a sergeant who hid his camera in a shoebox after other photographers had their cameras confiscated or destroyed.

“This made national news. There were some folks that were very concerned — the White House, the military. The NAACP sent a young attorney, Thurgood Marshall. It served as a principal reason for President Truman to integrate the U.S. military,” DuValle said.

“So here they are, setting an example for even the Air Force today in terms of teamwork and leadership, and they are arrested,” DuValle added.

All but three of the men were released back to duty and two of those men were acquitted. Lt. Bill Terry, however, was not. He was found guilty of jostling an officer and ordered to pay a $150 fine and was kicked out of the Army Air Corps. It wasn’t until the 1990s Terry was exonerated.

The story of the Tuskegee Airmen and the Freeman Field Mutiny caught the attention of a local Boy Scout named Tim Molinari. He approached the airfield with the idea to honor the Tuskegee Airmen in a permanent way.

In October, the airfield unveiled two life-sized statues and a plaque on the grounds to commemorate the group’s historic stand for equality and their contribution, as a whole, to the fight in World War II. There is also an endowment attached that will help in continuing to share the history.

“We’ll be able to do educational things which will continue to tell people what’s here and preserve the history of the Tuskegee Airmen group,” Bothe said.

Segregation of the U.S. armed forces ended on July 26, 1948, when President Truman signed Executive Order 9981. The order abolished discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin in the military.

MARION, Ind. (WISH) — Tucked away in Marion, Ind., are the somber reminders of the sacrifices made for our freedom today.

“It’s a little bit breathtaking,” Dave Drake, assistant director of Marion National Cemetery, said.

Row after row, in perfect alignment, the gravestones at Marion National Cemetery pay tribute to those who served our country.

“The level that is out here as far as different war eras, we have three Medal of Honor Recipients, dating back from the Civil War to the present day,” Drake said.

It’s eerily quiet at the cemetery, even in the middle of the day.

The sun shines on the names etched into the stones as people come from all over to see the grave markers of those who earned the right to be buried there.

And, for three weeks out of the year, as the sun sets, the light continues to shine.

“These are for the guys who can stand now but could not stand at one time,” Tom Luzadder, co-founder of the Let My Light Shine organization.

Luzadder and his wife, Kathy Luzadder, started Let My Light Shine, a nonprofit group that purchases solar lights to post next to the grave markers ahead of Veterans Day so they can be seen 24 hours a day.

“We had some friends that went to Arlington [National Cemetery] and brought back pictures of the Kennedy flame, the Eternal Flame. We’ve got tombstones…just similar to Arlington, and she said that would be neat if we could take a light and put it on the stones out there,” Luzadder said.

Kathy Luzadder worked at the Veterans Affairs office right next to the cemetery and she wanted to pay tribute in some way, so they went to the hardware store, and for $10, they bought a solar light just to see how it would look. They got permission from the cemetery director and began placing lights.

“The first year, we got two or three couples together and invested a little money and put 400 lights out there,” Luzadder said.

That was 11 years ago. Now, with the help of the community, they’ve put out more than 12,000 lights.

“We had over 200 people out there to put out the lights. It’s a community project to be able to honor the veterans,” Luzadder said.

Roger Anderson is a Vietnam veteran and the president of Let My Light Shine. He says as a veteran himself, it’s the least he can do.

“It gives you a warm welcome in your heart, to be able to go out and do it for these veterans. What can you say? I’m a veteran myself, maybe I’ll be out there some day and be looking for my light,” Anderson said.

Luzadder says he hopes keeping a light on the stones will keep the sacrifices of those buried there at the front of people’s minds.

“Patriotism seems to be webbing away, and it’s important we keep the flames going so younger people can realize that without [the veterans], we wouldn’t be able to have what we’ve got,” Luzadder said.

Luzadder says his wife, Kathy, passed away just two years ago, but he carries on her mission because he knows it meant so much to her.

“I know that she’d be just tickled to death to see a light on every veteran’s grave,” Luzzader said.

Let My Light Shine is in need of volunteers to help remove the lights on Nov. 12, starting at 9 a.m. Volunteers should arrive at the Marion National Cemetery just before 9 a.m.

MCCORDSVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — If Tom Ecoff could be described as one thing, it’s a family man.

“Dad made us feel like we had a Cinderella life,” Tom’s daughter Denise said.

Now 100 years old, Tom has amassed quite the family. He has four kids, several grandkids and great-grandkids.

(There was) “excitement when we got to spend time together because he just made us smile,” Tom’s granddaughter Jessica said.

It wasn’t until recently they learned that he’s also a true American hero.

“Growing up, I knew he was in World War II, but that was about it,” Jessica said.

At 19 years old, Tom decided he was going to enlist and join the fight in World War II. Originally, Tom wanted to fly planes, but he was declared colorblind. That’s when a friend came up with a plan.

“He said, ‘I got an idea, you want to go along with me?’ I said, ‘What’s the idea?’ Well, we’ll go up in the airplane, we’ll fly, OK? The big problem is you have to jump out, so we joined the 82nd Airborne,” Ecoff said.

He trained at Fort Benning in Georgia. It took about a year, and then they got the call. His first major mission was June 6, 1944. That’s D-Day, the day the Allies invaded Western Europe in World War II.

“One-thirty in the morning, I jumped, D-Day. We jumped at 785 feet. The flank was heavy coming over the channel approaching the French shores. As we flew in and I jumped, tracer bullets from the ground came up at us, and that’s the only way my mind accepted the fact that this wasn’t training, this was actually combat. These guys wanted to kill you, so we returned the favor,” Ecoff said.

His time in service is akin to something from a movie. A near-death experience earned him the Bronze Star.

“I had two men standing upright firing from one end into the next hedgerow, and getting return fire. Both of them were shot,” Ecoff said.

Ecoff ran out into gunfire and pulled the first soldier out of harm’s way. Then he went back out and got the second soldier. When Tom peaked out to assess the situation he hit the ground.

“‘Are you OK?’ He told me three times: ‘Are you alright, are you alright?’ I said, ‘What’s the deal? In your helmet there is a liner made of light material. The bullet I received came through the front, and it was high enough to follow the contour of the helmet and came out the back,” Ecoff said.

Ecoff’s awards don’t stop there, he is also a Purple Heart recipient after surviving a grenade explosion.

“When you hit a trip wire on the ground it released that and it came up off the ground about 3½, 4 feet. They called it bouncing Betty. Then it exploded. I had just passed that when it exploded. I was out of commission about 30 days,” Ecoff said.

Ecoff had nine pieces of shrapnel stuck in his back that the doctors couldn’t remove during the war. They advised him not to jump anymore because if they moved, it could paralyze him, but Ecoff was fighting for something bigger than himself.

“I couldn’t leave my buddies I had been with for years through all that training. If it was going to happen, it was just going to happen,” Ecoff said.

Tom continued to jump, taking part in the Battle of the Bulge, but for Ecoff, the stories and awards don’t erase the hardships of war.

“War is a terrible thing. Nobody wins. I felt I had committed a crime when I took another life, but when the bullets are wheezing by and you see your buddies falling, your mind changes, and you want to get that guy back,” Ecoff said.

After the war, Tom returned home to Indiana where he started his own trucking company. He did that for 27 years before closing the company. He’s built an amazing life beyond his heroism. If you ask Tom what he’s most proud of in his life, it’s probably not the Purple Heart.

“I live every day for my family. That’s the reason I’m here. If I didn’t have them, life would not be interesting enough to continue on. I give them all the credit for my hundred years. Bless their hearts,” Ecoff said.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Enjoy this replay of the “Celebrating Heroes Veterans Day special” that aired Thursday night on WISH-TV.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Oaklawn Memorial Gardens is unveiling a new memorial to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks Saturday morning.

The cemetery is permanently housing the large memorial designed by local artist Arlon Bayliss and bo-mar Industries. It will bear the names of nearly 3,000 victims who lost their lives during the attacks.

Among them were nine Hoosiers.

Gary Bright from Muncie, Katie McCloskey from South Bend, Stacy Peak from Tell City and Karen Juday from Elkhart are the victims who were killed during the World Trade Center attack.

Lt. Gen. Timothy Maude from Indianapolis, Col. Canfield Boon from Milan, Maj. Stephen V. Long from Cascade and Brenda Gibson from Indianapolis are the victims who died during the attack on the Pentagon.

Eddie Dillard from Gary died on Flight 77 when it hit the Pentagon.

The tribute at Oaklawn Memorial Gardens will include brief comments followed by a moment of silence.

“There’s been plenty of sacrifice as a nation because of what happened that day,” Tony Lloyd, president and chief operating officer of Buchanan Group, the company that owns Oaklawn Memorial Gardens, said. “Not only the souls that were lost, but just the sacrifice people who have served our country overseas as a result of 9/11.”

Marine Cpl. Josh Bleill will also share his personal story. Bleill is well known throughout the state and enlisted in 2004. He survived a bomb explosion in Iraq.

Bleill lost both his legs and two friends.

He is a walking, talking symbol of hope who uses his story to motivate and inspire others after two years of extensive rehabilitation.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — As we mark the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, News 8 will share reflections from many who were called into action.

Tonight, the leader of a special task force shares how the experience was unlike anything his team had done before.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Saturday marks 20 years since Sept. 11, 2001, the deadliest terror attack on America.

Nearly 3,000 people died and thousands more were injured.

All week, News 8 will take time to remember that day.

Tonight, we reflect on the importance of a memorial here in Indiana.