The American Legion’s float took home the honor of “Checkered Flag Award” at this year’s 60th Annual Indianapolis 500 Festival Parade honoring the famed race and Memorial Day. The Legion’s float theme was “Celebrating our Communities,” tying in nicely with the parade’s overall theme of “Celebrating the Stories of May!”
More than 300,000 spectators lined the streets of Indianapolis for the parade, joined by another 1 million watching from their televisions around the country. Everyone from high-ranking military personnel, race car drivers, politicians and even the Bargersville Marching Band stopped to greet American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett and other Legion family members as the float waited for its turn to join the parade.
The Legion float itself featured a small yellow house on the back of the float, with replica grass before it, signifying the Legion post in the heart of the community over its nearly 100-year history. The house on the back weighed nearly 500 pounds; 10 cubic feet of replica grass were used to make the front yard. The float also incorporated elements of the Barnett’s “Walk for Veterans” theme by including nearly 20 veterans walking beside the float on the nearly three-mile route.
Joining Barnett on the Legion float were American Legion Auxiliary National President Sharon Conatser and wounded veterans receiving care at Roudebush VA Medical Center, including husband and wife Matthew and Toni Winkler of Beech Grove, Ind. The Winklers represented The American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors program.
Legion family members from the Department of Indiana also escorted a special American flag that is on a world tour, “Old Glory Travels America’s Freedom Road,” to honor the service and sacrifice of those who served our country in the past and who serve today. Among other places the flag has visited are Mount Suribachi, two presidential inaugural parades, Normandy American Cemetery and the World War II Memorial dedication in Washington, D.C.
Barnett was grateful for the Winklers’ attendance. “I want to thank both of you for your service,” he told them, noting that both were “combat veterans of Somalia and served during that time period.” The Winklers were accompanied by their 14-month-old son, and Toni road the float even at eight months pregnant with their second child. “Thank you for being here, and thank all of you from The American Legion family for being here today,” she said.
Conatser also thanked Barnett and the Winklers for being a part of the festivities.
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