Memorial service honors fallen heroes, Gold Star Families


Throughout the month of May, the 500 Festival presents a series of activities in the lead-up to Memorial Day and the Indianapolis 500. The American Legion 500 Festival Memorial Service, which recognizes the sacrifices of Indiana’s fallen military servicemen and women, is among the signature events.

The 64th annual American Legion 500 Festival Memorial Service is set for 3:30 p.m. May 26 on the steps of the Indiana War Memorial in Indianapolis. The event, which also honors Gold Star Families – those who have lost a loved while serving in the U.S. military – is open to the public. Admission is free.

“For over 60 years, the American Legion 500 Festival Memorial Service has been one of our most revered traditions. We have one of the best memorial services in the country,” said Bob Bryant, president and CEO of the 500 Festival.  “Thirty-five to 50 Gold Star Families attend this service, which includes performances, a color guard, fly over and a military funeral procession known as a cortege.”

Bryant added that a guest general, traditionally a four-star general, will speak at the service.

“Having a general who serves on the cabinet of the president of the United States shows the significance of this event,” Bryant said. “And it’s an honor we are able to provide a platform for someone of this rank to speak to our families and community.”

The memorial service also offers local service people the opportunity to contribute by serving in the military elements of the event.

“It’s great to see how much the 500 Festival does to honor our military,” said former Marine Sgt. Ronald Walker, who has participated in various 500 Festival events, including singing the national anthem during the Memorial Service in 2016.

Walker, who lives in Indianapolis, now serves with the Indiana National Guard and works closely with Gold Star Families through Survivor Outreach Services, which supports the families of the fallen.

“Gold Star Families are a special group, and I’m honored to support this connection that solidifies the bond of service, family, and brotherhood,” Walker said.   

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Marilyn Frantz, a Gold Star mother from Lafayette, has attended the memorial service for more than a decade in memory of her son, Army SPC. Matthew Frantz.

“It means a lot to know that the 500 Festival takes the time to honor our son,” Frantz said.  On January 20, 2006, while serving as a counterintelligence officer during Iraqi Freedom, a roadside bomb exploded near Matthew’s Humvee.  Matthew and three other soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division lost their lives. The support we have received from Survivor Outreach Services has been crucial to help us pick up the pieces.  I’ve met many Gold Star Families, and we look forward to the memorial service every year. Countless heroes like my son have given up their tomorrows, so we could have our todays.”

Gold Star Families are invited to march in the AES 500 Festival Parade, set for 12:00 p.m. May 27 in downtown Indianapolis.  On May 6, OneAmerica Mini Marathon Festival participants can dedicate completion of Mile 6 – known as the “Gold Mile” on the backstretch of the Indy 500 track — to a fallen hero.

“The track is what makes this race fun, and to honor these fallen heroes during the toughest mile of the race is the most emotional part of the run for most participants, including elite runners,” Bryant said.  “We are honored and humbled to recognize these fallen heroes.”

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