Walking into the 76th Infantry Brigade Armory on July 21 was like entering a portal to a time not so long ago: Jack Benny comedic skits, swing dancing, Glen Miller band music. Complete with costumes, hairstyles, and memorabilia from the mid 1940s, it’s a step back in time to a USO canteen! This event, the 12th Annual World War II Tribute, originated at Indian Creek Elementary School. Steve Hardwick, now in his 17th year of teaching 5th grade at Indian Creek, began this event to give back to the war Veterans from WWII. Put on exclusively by former and current students of Mr. Hardwick and countless parent volunteers, this year’s event attracted 108 Indianapolis-area WWII Veterans.
As the Veterans enter into the building, they are greeted by enthusiastic students waving American flags. The hall is lined with 1940s-era memorabilia, and Glen Miller big band music is playing. Mr. Hardwick is in character as Jack Benny, the notoriously cheap, noted violin-playing comedian. Throughout the variety show, he is brilliantly supported by a cast of students, ages 9-21, who provide additional comic relief, as well as reciting essays on what the experience means to them. Students sing songs from the 40s and also perform dance routines.
From its inception, Mr. Hardwick has credited the success of the Tribute completely to the parent volunteers, many of whom have a father or grandfather who was in WWII. Hardwick said, “You may judge a Nation by how it cares for their [sic] Veterans.” The WWII Tribute is one of the nicest means by which to do so. This celebration was designed by Mr. Hardwick to encourage youth to respect, honor, and especially to offer gratitude to our WWII Veterans for their service.
Participating in the WWII Tribute has a profoundly positive effect on all. Just being in the presence of these brave, selfless men who faced unimaginable challenges and circumstances, makes you want to be a better person. But the Veterans take away as much as the volunteers do. For them, it is like watching their own grandchildren perform, validating the reason they served all those years ago. All of these amazing Veterans who attend look forward to this event year after year, even as their numbers are dwindling.
Mr. Hardwick takes note of which student was matched with which WWII Veteran. Unfortunately, given that the war ended 67 years ago, these gentlemen are of advanced age. “If there is a memorial service for one of our Veterans, I inform the parents and students and I personally attend when I can in order to honor them one last time.” said Steve Hardwick.
Hardwick, who is himself an Army veteran, along with Dr. Duane Hodgin (former assistant Superintendent of MSDLT) are so fiercely drawn to the preservation of the history of the WWII era, have amassed a collection of Veterans’ memoirs. Their book, WW II: Duty, Honor, Country, Memoirs of Those Who Served, will be published around November 2012.
Based on the lessons of humanity, compassion, and honor, the World War II Tribute has been an enduring success. Students (and their parents) return year after year to contribute their talents and efforts to recreate a little piece of the past. Long may it continue.