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Hebron honors veterans with trail day

A 1.4-mile stretch of trail in Hebron leads the way to a number of possibilities as it honors fallen heroes and veterans.

“You’re standing on a national trail that will go from Washington, D.C., to Washington state,” said Mitch Barloga, president of the Veterans Memorial Parkway Commission and Friends of the Veterans Memorial Parkway.

The Great American Rail Trail has a long way to go to reach its western terminus, but there’s a lot yet to build in Porter and Lake counties, too.

Barloga said the Lake County parks system is helping with the trail in unincorporated parts of the county. Its Porter County counterpart is doing the same.

“It takes a long time to get trails in the ground,” he said.

That’s complicated by the many property owners involved in acquiring the abandoned railroad right-of-way. “When the railroad abandoned it, all these people wanted the land,” Barloga said.

“Hebron did their job. They got it built,” he said.

That’s because of Don Ensign, whose unflagging attention to the project brought the town’s initial stretch of trail to fruition. “He’s Mr. Hebron for a reason,” Barloga said.

Mitch Barloga, president of both the Veterans Memorial Parkway Commission and its allied Friends group, stands in Hebron among flags and signs honoring Hoosier members of the military who died during service to their country since 9/11 on Saturday, April 27, 2024. (Doug Ross/for Post-Tribune)
Mitch Barloga, president of both the Veterans Memorial Parkway Commission and its allied Friends group, stands in Hebron among flags and signs honoring Hoosier members of the military who died during service to their country since 9/11 on Saturday, April 27, 2024. (Doug Ross/for Post-Tribune)

The land on which Hebron’s trail now sits was acquired for a drainage project. Ensign seized on the opportunity to build the trail there, persuading his employer, a steelmaker, to donate the base for the asphalt trail. A Next Level Trails grant from the state helped pave the way to completion.

Eventually, the Veterans Memorial Trail will connect the Middle East War Memorial to be built in Hebron with the nearby Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial at Stony Run County Park and the World War I, World War II and Holocaust Memorial to be built at Sauerman Woods Park in Crown Point.

Fundraising for the Middle East War Memorial has begun after a COVID-19 delay. So far, Ensign said, $14,000 has been raised toward the $50,000 cost for engineering. This month alone, $6,000 was donated. “It’s slow, but it’s starting to become more fruitful,” he said.

Once the engineering work is done, Ensign and others can start approaching big donors with design drawings and detailed financials.

The pre-COVID cost to build it was estimated at $616,000. “At this point, I believe it’s going to be $1 million,” Ensign said. He hopes the construction trades can use their apprentices to help bring down the construction cost.

For the Korean War Memorial, a farmer donated the two acres to build it. “That worked perfectly for Korea,” Barloga said.

A firm from Jerusalem is designing the memorial for World Wars I and II and the Holocaust, Barloga said. “We’re talking multimillions.”

A veteran holds a ceremonial flag during a Site Dedication for the future Northwest Indiana Middle East Veteran's Memorial along Rt 231 in Hebron on Sunday.
A veteran holds a ceremonial flag during a site dedication for the future Northwest Indiana Middle East Veteran’s Memorial along U.S. 231 in Hebron in November 2019. (Suzanne Tennant/for Post-Tribune)

Several people spoke at a Celebrate Trail Day event at the Veterans Memorial Trail.

“It honors our veterans who gave the greatest sacrifice,” U.S. Rep. Frank Mrvan said. He sits on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

“It took over four decades for Vietnam vets to get recognition for Agent Orange,” said Mrvan, D-Highland. He wants the federal government to move faster to provide help to veterans whose exposure to fire pits in the Middle East conflicts could cause cancer and lung diseases.

“This is an important and historic day for all of us,” said state Rep. Michael Aylesworth, R-Hebron.

“Today, we’re here to pay homage to those who served and those who have gone before us,” he said.

“There are a lot of things happening here in Hebron, and you are a part of them happening,” said Town Council President John Spinks, D-3rd. “We absolutely hope this trail extends all across the country.”

“This is the greatest county in Indiana, and things like this make it easy to see that,” said Porter County Councilman Greg Simms, D-3rd.

Porter County Surveyor Kevin Breitzke said he was there when the Veterans Memorial Parkway Commission began planning the trail and the memorials. “The only way this became possible was all the partnerships with locals,” he said.

Connie Karras, of Munster, is an Operation Desert Storm veteran, serving in the Marines. She urges others to remember not just those who died on the battlefield but also by suicide afterward. “Many people fall through the cracks,” she said.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a major issue for veterans, Barloga acknowledged. “They bring the war home with them and can’t handle it.”

In addition to suicides, some servicemen and women die during training.

There will be 1,200 names for the memorial for World Wars I and II and the Holocaust. “They were just barely out of being teenagers,” he said.

“You get into this field, and it really makes you appreciate getting old,” Barloga said.

Doug Ross is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.


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