FORT JENNINGS — The sounds of the rotors of three Huey helicopters landing at Fort Jennings Park could be heard Friday morning with people on the ground waving flags signaling the kick off of the Fort Fest.
The festival continues today and Sunday and pays tribute to those who have done military service.
Amy Ricker, Fort Fest committee member, said the festival is the eighth annual event to commemorate the military heritage in Fort Jennings. The helicopters have come to the festival since 2012.
“These flights offer healing and an opportunity where veterans can share stories, tears and laughter for them and their family members,” Ricker said.
Huey 369, an organization from Peru, Indiana, brought the helicopters in that will be available for flights. The cost is $100 for a membership flight today and Sunday, and rides are open to the community.
The organization started 15 years ago by CEO John Walker and his brother Allen, according to Phil Marshall, pilot for Huey 369.
“John was a Marine helicopter pilot and he trained in the Huey and flew the Jolly Green Giant, the largest military helicopter in the Marines,” Marshall said. Walker decided after he got out of the Marines to buy a Huey helicopter. After word got out about the Huey 369 helicopter that was restored, the organization started. It has over 17,000 members and the purpose is to restore, maintain and educate the pubic about the Huey to honor Vietnam veterans.
“We call the Huey the sound of hope. As a warrior you could be on the ground injured or out of ammunition and when you heard the rotors you knew help was coming,” Marshall said. He served in the Army in 1969 as a warrant officer with his job being to fly the aircraft.
Austin Kehres, 22, of Fort Jennings, has served in the Navy for the past 3 1/4 years was a passenger on one of the Hueys that flew from Grissom Air Force Base in Peru, Indiana. He arrived on the flight with the pilots at Fort Jennings Park.
“It was remarkable and brought chills to be in the Huey with men who had served in the military,” Kehres said. He has been coming to the festival since he was young and said the festival is important because it gives back to those who served.
Ralph Hoehn, 97, of Delphos, and World War II Air Force veteran, rode on the Huey with his daughter, granddaughter, great-granddaughter and grandson. He was a pilot on a B-24 during World War II.
“It’s overwhelming being here today and a great experience,” Hoehn said. He said the festival provides healing for those who served.
In addition to the helicopters, there are traveling World War II, Korean, Vietnam and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier memorials.
Jeannie Ignash, Freedoms Never Free president, oversaw the World War II and Korean memorials. The World War II memorial has 1,048 stars that represents Americans who have been killed in action. The Korean Memorial has statues of soldiers walking. The Vietnam Memorial has over 58,000 names of men and women who died while defending the country.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is on display inside the Fort Jennings Fire Station. It is the replica of the same memorial in Washington, D.C. at Arlington National Cemetery.
“There were over 400,000 men killed in World War II. It is very emotional for when the veterans see the memorials, and we want them to know we appreciate their service,” Ignash said.
Jerry Lindquist, owner of Master Modeler Travelling Museum, Miami, Indiana, shared his collection of military memorabilia representing World War I to Afghanistan.
He said 99 percent of the items are donated by veterans or their families.
“I made a Omaha Beach D-Day scene that took me five years to complete. Other items are a Vietnam fire base, gas masks, military helmets, machine guns and sleep cots.
“This is our history and we want to remember it. I try to honor the veterans and teach children about military history,” Lindquist said.
For a complete event schedule, visit www.FJFortFest.com
Reach Jennifer Peryam at 567-242-0362.