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America Supports You: Indy 500 Pays Tribute to Military

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

INDIANAPOLIS, May 27, 2007 – Before Dario Franchitti took the checkered flag to win the 91st Indianapolis 500 today, the military took center stage as the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” honored the nation’s servicemembers during its opening ceremonies.

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Dozens of servicemembers took a lap around the two-and-a-half mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway as part of the 91st Indianapolis 500’s opening ceremonies May 27, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by Samantha L. Quigley
  

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That tribute is something the fans have come to expect at the Indianapolis 500.

“It’s outstanding. It’s the one place that I think they really give the veterans some recognition that they deserve,” Kenny Hill from Beach Grove, Ind., said. “Over the years, decades, centuries people have been taking care of the United States. (The country needs) to remember (them).”

It’s fans like Hill who applauded servicemembers as if they were rock stars when they drove around the two-and-a-half mile track in the speedway’s “Military Recognition March.” About 100 servicemembers got a similar reception when they marched down Pit Road.

The fan reaction does a lot to boost morale, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Gregory Himes said.

“We know that we’re cared about, that were not just out there on our own,” said Himes, who is stationed on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. “I’m glad that people show the respect and the knowledge that even if you don’t know what’s going on around the world you still support your military. That’s important.”

Fans at the speedway heard announcements about how they could support the troops through the America Supports You program, and TV viewers got the same information across the bottom of their screens. The Defense Department program connects citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.

The crowd’s enthusiasm continued as five servicemembers took to the victory podium to sing the National Anthem. As they finished, four F-22 Raptors based at Langley Air Force Base, Va., thrilled race fans with a fly over.

Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Angela Burns, Army Staff Sgt. Colin Eaton, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class David Sigmon, Marine Sgt. Terri Kopetzki, and Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Lisa Williamson were very honored to be participating in the annual Memorial Day weekend tradition.

“I feel very flattered to be here representing the Air Force, each of us representing our service,” said Burns, who is part of a group known as the Singing Sergeants. “Many of our colleagues are back in the Washington, D.C.-area also performing for a Memorial Day concert in honor of our troops so it’s just a special honor for us to be here.”

The others were equally grateful for the opportunity to perform. But it was the reactions they received from the fans that made a truly lasting impression.

“This is ridiculous. There’s no other way to say it,” Eaton said with a huge smile. “The amount of people, the enthusiasm, the love for the military, it’s overwhelming.

“The looks we get, the high-fives, the hand shakes, the salutes, they’re all coming in droves,” he added. “It’s an amazing experience.”

Williamson agreed with her Army counterpart. “It makes me very proud to be here, to be wearing the uniform,” she said. “You feel like its appreciated and it serves as a reminder to the thousands of fans who are here that … there are people who are serving every day.”

While grateful for all of the support from race fans, and those across the country, the singing servicemembers wanted to share it with their comrades. Sigmon offered the nation’s servicemembers a simple “Thank you.”

Kopetzki’s message was a little more personal. “I have 20 of my closest comrades that I work with, and they start their training to go to Iraq … Tuesday,” she said. “I know I’m going to miss them. I wish I could be with them.”

Not even all the support and good wishes could stave off the spring rains Indiana is famous for, however. The skies opened up after drivers had completed 113 laps and kept the track closed for just over three hours.

Speedway officials finally got the track dry enough to give drivers the green flag in hopes of finishing the race. Just 53 laps later, the rain had returned. Franchitti, who drives the No. 27 Canadian Club Dallara/Honda/Firestone car, led the field when officials called the race with only 415 of the 500 miles complete. He’s first Scotsman to win the Indianapolis 500 since 1965.

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Related Sites:
America Supports You
Photo Essay: 50th Indy 500 Festival Parade

Click photo for screen-resolution imageMarine Sgt. Terri Kopetzki, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class David Sigmon, Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Angela Burns, Army Sgt. Colin Eaton, and Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Lisa Williamson performed the National Anthem during the 91st Indianapolis 500’s opening ceremonies, May 27, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageRace fans, and teams alike applauded the nearly 100 servicemembers who marched down Pit Road at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as part of the ceremonies preceding the running of the 91st Indianapolis 500 on May 27, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAn Army color guard presents the Flag prior to the singing of the National Anthem during the opening ceremonies for the 91st Indianapolis 500 on May 27, 2007. A five-member joint service choir performed the anthem. Defense Dept. photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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