07/02/2014 5:30 PM -
The highly anticipated matchup between the Norwest Indiana Oilmen and the Southland Vikings to kick off the month of July was not the main focus of the evening on this particular night. It was the Veteran’s Benefit Game at Oil City Stadium which was the main event. The Oilmen fell to the Vikings in a back and forth 14- 8 contest, but no matter the score, the atmosphere was electric in the ballpark.
The stands were packed to the brim with current military members, veterans and many people in the community who showed their unwavering support for military veterans. The event was centered on the “Veterans Build Project” which is joint effort between Habitat for Humanity and the Northwest Indiana Veterans Council. The goal is to build a home for a veteran, active military member or widow of a military member in the community every year. Sixty percent of all ticket sales went to the “Veterans Build Project.” Mr. Danna Carter and his family were honored before the game as the recipients of the Veterans Build Project, as they will be receiving the first home of the joint effort.
Michael Sparber, Chairman of the Northwest Indiana Veterans Council, was extremely grateful for the Oilmen and their efforts in helping bring about awareness to the needs of many local veterans. With approximately 37,000 veterans in Lake County and 13,000 in Porter County, Sparber explained the concept for the Veterans Council, and how it was a pressing need in the Northwest Indiana community.
“The original idea of the council was to bring together veterans and non-veterans to the same table to show that we support those who serve us,” Sparber said. “It takes a community to take care of our veterans.”
The evening began with the presentation to Mr. Carter by Dan Klein, the Executive Director of Northwest Indiana’s Habitat for Humanity, and was followed by a Bugler, who played the “Assembly” bugle call to begin the rest of the ceremonies. This was followed by a presentation by Company B of the 20th Indiana Volunteer Civil War Infantry whose mission is to preserve a living history of those who fought for the preservation of the Union 150 years ago. Michael Miller, the portrayer of Crown Point Union Army Col. John Wheeler, explained the little-known local history of this portrayal.
“We cannot forget our past,” Miller said. “We portray company B of 20th Indiana, which started in Lake County, Indiana. A lot of people don't know that.”
There was a company of men composed of all Lake County men [and] Mr. Wheeler of Crown Point brought these men together.”
The three ceremonial first pitches followed as former Staff Sergeant with the United States Marine Corps Bill Wellman, Gold Star Mother Patti Nowaczyk and Sergeant Karl Seiter stood together on the mound, and all threw perfect strikes.
Wellman, a LaPorte Indiana native, was honored to attend the evening’s events, as he said, “This is one that you travel quite a ways to come over here. I wouldn’t have missed in the world because the cause is so good.”
Wellman also has started the custom of playing “Taps,” the last bugle call of the day for the military and bugle call at the completion of military funerals, from his home in Valparaiso. He obtained the idea from a TV special two years ago, featuring a gentleman in Tacoma, Washington who did this practice every morning on his porch.
Wellman has worked with an engineer to create a device that automatically plays “Taps” every evening, and it can be programmed to play other music as well, such as “God Bless America” at noon on Sundays. All of this is done in an effort to continue his commitment to honor his military past.
Nowaczyk lost her son David, a Lake Central High School Graduate, in his third tour of duty in Afghanistan back in 2012 and continues to work to help raise funds to build a memorial to all the fallen soldiers from Northwest Indiana. While this was an emotional day for her, she shared that she was extremely proud of the community and how she felt it is essential to promote continued awareness of veterans’ needs.
Seiter should be a familiar name to many people who know Oilmen baseball, as he is the General Manager of the U.S. Military All-Stars, the usual opponent of the Oilmen on Veterans Benefit Night at the ballpark. Seiter served as the 1st Ranger Battalion and served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he received a Purple Heart. Seiter unfortunately could not run the U.S. Military All-Stars this year, as he is continuing his battle against APL Acute Leukemia. However, he was able to make it out to the ballpark for the event, and said that, “We do 350 events a year, and this is by far my favorite event.”
After the three ceremonial first pitches, a moment of silence was taken, followed by three rounds of volleys fired by the American Legion Whiting Post 80 Honorary Rifle Squad. “Taps” was played and a resounding rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” by Sergeant Sean Garrison set the stage for a fun-filled, patriotic night at the ballpark. While the Oilmen could not pull out the victory on this special night, it was punctuated by an impressive fireworks show that illuminated the sky behind right-center field, capturing the excitement and pride that served as the theme for the evening.