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Merrillville highlights women vets’ accomplishments at ceremony

Navy veteran Bob Fenando pauses with his hover his heart during closing praqyer Merrillville/Ross Township Veterans Day program Merrillville Town

Navy veteran Bob Fenando pauses with his hat over his heart during the closing praqyer at the Merrillville/Ross Township Veterans Day program at Merrillville Town Hall Monday Nov. 12, 2012. Fernando, of Merrillville, served during the Korean War era. | Anthony D. Alonzo~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 13, 2012 3:14PM



MERRILLVILLE — Veterans were honored for their service Monday with a ceremony at the Town Hall highlighting women from the community. Veterans from all branches and serving from World War II to Afghanistan were recognized during the Veterans Day ceremony.

This year, four women shared how the military affected their lives, offering structure and valuable life lessons.

Donna Sanders, of Merrillville, said her time serving during the first Iraq War, Operation Desert Storm, offered her the chance to earn her bachelor’s degree in business administration, and she now works with Veterans Affairs to help other veterans enroll in higher education opportunities.

Alicia Wilson, of Michigan City, shared her experience when she was called to serve and traveled to Saudi Arabia. She appreciated the character and self-sufficiency military service offered, and appreciated the other veterans at the ceremony who fought on the front lines.

“These veterans worked hard for it. They have character,” she said, “I admire them, and I feel that I am not as worthy as they are. But we are all veterans, we did it with our whole hearts.”

Her son, Christopher, wore her Army camouflage to the ceremony.

Detra Hernandez, of Michigan Cit,y told of her service as a Navy medic, and how she learned to work with people from around the country.

“You learn to work together and accept each other,” Hernandez said. “You realize that everyone comes from different backgrounds.”

Carolyn Thorpe, of Merrillville, said the benefits of serving created a confidence in her as well as her fellow servicemen and women.

“You gain both physical and mental strength,” she said, “I learned discipline, and interacted with people of other communities.”

Highlighting female veterans was a new approach for the ceremony.

“It was something we hadn’t done before,” said Alice Smedstad, a member of the Merrillville-Ross Township Historical Society who helped organize the ceremony, “especially since this year the government has passed new laws that will increase the way women can be involved in the military.”

Since 1973, the number of enlisted women in the military has increased from 2 percent to 14 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. That will likely increase in the future, as the U.S. Department of Defense opened more than 14,000 new assignments in May that could be filled by women. Before that, women were often restricted from serving near the front lines.



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