On a warm, sunny evening, a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace” as three members of the Indiana Guard Reserve marched toward a flagpole.
Command Sgt. Maj. Paul Clark of Noblesville led the march, followed by Capt. Bryan Kovener of Crothersville carrying a folded POW/MIA flag and Chief Warrant Officer Howard Bennis of Greenwood.
They joined Cpl. Sam Malloy of Jeffersonville and Staff Sgt. Greg Ramoni of Scottsburg, who had lowered the American flag and helped place the POW/MIA flag below it and raise them up.
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The five men then marched off before Lee Greenwood’s patriotic song “God Bless the USA” played on the loudspeaker. The men then presented the colors as the “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played.
The tradition of saluting the men and women who have served and who are serving the country was carried on Thursday during the opening ceremonies of the 41st annual Crothersville Red, White and Blue Festival.
Festival organizer Sherry Bridges gave special recognition to two of the town’s veterans.
First, she honored Asberry Riley, a U.S. Navy veteran who worked in the U.S. Naval Construction Force. He and his wife, Mable, had been staples at the festival’s opening ceremonies. She died June 29, 2015, and he died March 10 of this year.
“They were usually the first ones here on a Thursday evening and got front-row seats,” Bridges said. “I would look at Asberry, and he would give me a slight little nod as if ‘OK, we’re ready now.’”
Bridges then presented a plaque to Derald Whipple, a lifelong Crothersville resident who was a specialist fourth class in the U.S. Army. He was drafted in September 1963 and completed his basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, before heading to Fort Gordon, Georgia, for signal school.
In April 1964, he headed to Vietnam, where he was a top-secret telegraphic typewriter operator.
“His kids tell me, ‘Still today, Dad won’t tell you the secrets,’” Bridges said. “Many veterans, they won’t tell you the secrets because they took an honor. You keep those secrets.”
A few years ago, Bridges volunteered to help when Whipple visited a traveling Vietnam wall in Columbus.
“He walked up that ramp, and he hesitated, and he just stood there,” Bridges said. “He took a couple more steps, and he just stood there. Then he took a step back, and he finally made it to the wall. He just got to the first panel, and he just laid his hand right there.”
Bridges said she couldn’t remember if he went all the way around the wall, but the first panel was enough.
“He just stood there with his hand on the wall thinking of all of his buddies,” she said. “Whether they came back or not, he thought of every one of them.”
In the community, Whipple was a mail carrier for about 30 years and a firefighter with Crothersville-Vernon Township Volunteer Fire Department for 28 years.
Whipple said he came to the festival Thursday thinking he was going to see one of his grandchildren in the baby contest. But when he got there in his golf cart, which he received a few years ago from a veterans foundation, the child wasn’t there.
Then he heard Bridges share information about him and present him with a plaque.
“This was altogether a big shock. I had no idea I was going to get any kind of salute. I tell you, I was really, totally, totally shocked,” Whipple said. “But I sure appreciate it. It’s a great thing. This means a lot to me because this is my country, and I fought for my country, and I love it. I still love it.”
Whipple’s wife of 52 years, Shearlene, knew ahead of time her husband was going to be honored, but their four children and other family members didn’t know.
“I knew about it, but I didn’t know what all was going to be said,” she said. “It’s wonderful for them to recognize him. I was speechless, really.”
Participating in the opening ceremonies meant a lot to the five men involved in the Indiana Guard Reserve, especially town native Kovener. His 12-year-old son, Preston, assisted.
“I feel like I’m carrying on the tradition and/or the torch of the different men and women here in Crothersville and just in Jackson County who have served in the military to keep our great country free and keep it great,” Kovener said. “It’s my turn to step up and do the same. I don’t doubt my son will do it one day, as well.”
After carrying the POW/MIA flag, Kovener had the honor of carrying the American flag while presenting the colors.
“The fact that all of the men who have carried that flag through various situations and so forth, I think then that I could carry it here in Crothersville at a school nice and safe. Other men were not so fortunate,” he said.
Kovener has served with the Indiana Guard Reserve since 2007. He said he had previously thought of serving the country in some way, but he was balancing school, family and his own business.
“It was a number of years after Sept. 11, looking to see if there was something I could do, and I found the Indiana Guard Reserve, and it has been a very good fit for me,” he said.
That has sparked his son’s interest in joining the Air Force.
“We’ve worked air shows before and do search and rescue, so he has seen me do search and rescue, and if somebody needs help, you stop and you help,” Kovener said. “It will probably bring him up right that way.”
While he likes eating the food, seeing friends, family and clients and looking at the antique tractors at the festival, Kovener said the best part is the salute to the military.
“I think it just shows Crothersville and the citizens of Crothersville are very patriotic and they love this country. No matter who they vote for, it’s country first,” he said. “It’s why I wear the uniform — to keep it that way.”
Clark, who has been in the Indiana Guard Reserve for 27 years, said the members focus on emergency response and take pride in being able to serve Hoosiers.
“We’re ready to step up when the governor makes the call for us,” he said.
Malloy has been in the Indiana Guard Reserve for a year, while Ramoni has a combined 13 years in active duty Army and the Indiana Guard Reserve.
“It’s the pride to be able to represent the colors, the IGR and the great people that we serve with and this festival,” Ramoni said. “To look out, I had friends and family sitting in the crowd, and it swelled myself up with pride.”
Bennis has a total of 28 years in active duty, reserves and the National Guard. He joined the Indiana Guard Reserve 15 years ago as a result of 9/11.
“This is the epitome of small-town America. This is what it’s all about,” he said of the festival. “If it wasn’t for people like this in small-town America, there wouldn’t be an America. I’m proud to participate in something like this.”
Also on the festival’s main stage Thursday night were several contests.
That included the crowning of the festival prince and princess. Eleven Crothersville students conducted their own fundraisers, and the ones who collected the most won.
Sixth-grader Devin Morgan was crowned prince, and classmate Jamie Caudill was named princess. They were nominated for the honor by their classmates.
Devin said he raised nearly $970, setting collection cans out at a restaurant and two gas stations in town. His father also collected donations at work, and they conducted a bake sale.
Jamie said she sold candy bars and also placed collection cans around town. She wound up with nearly $420.
“It was hard to win,” Devin said.
“You had to raise a lot of money,” Jamie added.
The 11 students combined to collect about $4,000, which will be split by the Crothersville High School yearbook staff and the festival. The yearbook staff sponsored the contest to raise funding for publishing expenses.
Both winners said they like going to the festival every year. Devin’s favorite part is the food, especially funnel cakes, while Jamie likes checking out the rides.
They also like the patriotic feel of the festival and the salute to veterans.
“I think it’s important because it’s serving our country,” Jamie said.
41st annual Crothersville Red, White and Blue Festival
7 a.m.: FFA breakfast
7:30 a.m.: Waterball registration
8 a.m.: Otter Basketball Camp
8 a.m.: Waterball contest
10 a.m.: Parade registration
10 a.m.: Bubble gum blowing contest
10 a.m.: Pedal tractor pull registration
10:30 a.m.: Pedal tractor pull
11 a.m.: Pork burger eating contest
Noon: Pet and bike parade
12:30 p.m.: The Long Family Singers
1:30 p.m.: Parade
3 p.m.: Stars and Stripes
4 p.m.: Ko’s Martial Arts
4:30 p.m.: Celebrate Indiana 200
5 p.m.: Redemption gospel group
5:50 p.m.: Cake and pie raffle
6 p.m.: Jerry Zollman and Troy Seal
7 p.m.: Hewitt and Fink
7:45 p.m.: Southern Comfort
8:45 p.m.: Raffles from vendors
9 p.m.: Last Exit
10 p.m. Zambelli Fireworks show
Throughout the day
Antique farm machinery show along Howard Street.
A collection of pictures of Crothersville and its residents from the archives of Garland “Gus” Louden on display at Hamacher Hall on Howard Street.
Fish and rib eye steak dinners and Firehouse Ice Cream at the Crothersville-Vernon Township Volunteer Fire Department at the corner of Moore and Armstrong streets.
Handicap parking is in the school administration building parking lot.
Restrooms are located inside the gym entrance to the left.
Information: Sherry Bridges, 812-569-0407, or Doris Kovener, 812-793-2573