New perspective on gift-giving this season

WAKARUSA — The 2012 Christmas Season has begun and people are busy making plans for gatherings and lists for gift purchases. Amid all the hustle and bustle one family is focused outside the box of normal gifts and celebrations.
Instead of concentrating on purchases from stores, the Steve Hunsberger family encourages everyone who knows a veteran — living or deceased — who has served in any branch of the United States military to give a gift of honor and love. Inside Memorial Park, Wakarusa, a memorial to their son, Travis Hunsberger — an Army Green Beret killed in Afghanistan in 2008 — offers the public opportunity to honor veteran friends, loved ones, and others who’ve touched their lives.
“We knew we had to find a way to honor him,” says Steve Hunsberger reflecting back to the day word came that Travis had died while serving his country.
The fallen soldier’s hometown of Wakarusa, and the greater Wa-Nee Community, joined the Hunsberger family in mourning. Then individuals and businesses alike joined forces to support efforts in raising a memorial recognizing the hometown hero.
Upon request from the Hunsberger family the memorial went beyond honoring their son. It pays tribute to heroes in every branch of the United States Military — past, present and future. The site recognizes all who have, or are serving, during times of conflict or peace.
Bricks numbering 146 — found inside the floor of the memorial, and the walkway between the memorial and parking lot — can be purchased for $22. Those purchased are then personalized to recognize the name, rank, war, conflict or peace time position of anyone who has served in the United States Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy or National Guard.
The honor is open to anyone with a Wakarusa tie. Whether the military person lived there briefly, or for a lifetime — or is related to or friends with someone who has Wakarusa connections—all can be represented at the site. Once the bricks are filled other measures can be designed to facilitate additional names of veterans.
Places for names of veterans is not limited to those who died while serving, or those who fought in wars. In addition to those groups anyone who has ever, or is currently, serving in any branch of the military — during times of peace or conflict — can have bricks made in their honor.
Personalization of each brick is donated by a local business and all dollars raised through sale of bricks are used to maintain the grounds, landscaping and flag features of the memorial. The site features flags from every branch of the military which are flown for special occasions such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Veterans Day. There are also special banners regularly hung throughout the memorial site.
In the past three-and-a-half years since the memorial opened, more than $2,000 has been needed for these flags and banners which become worn, faded and damaged by environmental elements.
An average of $1,500 is needed each year for maintenance of the memorial, brick path, flags and landscape on the memorial grounds. Bricks honoring other service men and women can be purchased. Proceeds will be used for memorial upkeep.
In addition, an account in the name of “SSG Travis Hunsberger” has been established at Interra Credit Union, S.R. 19 Wakarusa and donations to the cause can be made there.
Born Feb. 4, 1984, Travis Hunsberger graduated from NorthWood High School in 2002 before spending two years enrolled at Ball State University, Muncie. With a heart of service, Hunsberger felt a stirring to contribute something to his country, and the victims’ families, following the terrorist attacks in New York City, New York, Sept. 11, 2001.
He later left college, enrolled in the Army, and graduated Special Forces as a Green Beret in 2006. Hunsberger’s first deployed to the Mideast in 2007 — and again in 2008.
Despite Hunsberger and his unit canvassing an area in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan, he exited a Humvee and stepped on an undetected land mind.
Hunsberger’s memorial features a monument bearing his name with a replica of the gun he carried, as well as the helmet and boots he wore. In front of that monument are bricks personalized with the names of other members of the Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 7132 who were there with Hunsberger the day he died. They include:
• SGM Rober Louden
• CPT Patrick Mather
• MSG Michael Watson
• SFC Antonio Gonzalez
• SFC Ramon Pereyra
• SFC Brian Smearman
• SSG Brian Daresta
• SSG Ronald Gregg
• SSG Luis Morales
• SSG David Pavlick
• SSG Chris Sheline.
Surrounding the monument are bricks filled with the names of other military members from all wars and conflicts past and present, as well as those who have served during peace time, or are serving today. Other bricks around the monument, and along the pathway leading to a parking lot for visitors, remain open for others to purchase and personalize with family, friends and acquaintances they would like to recognize and honor.
This Christmas holiday everyone is invited to pay tribute to all veterans with a visit to Memorial Park and Travis Hunsberger’s memorial. The public is also invited to give a very special gift by purchasing a brick to honor the service of a friend or loved one who has served in any branch of the military — past or present. Contact Steve Hunsberger, 574-862-2472.
Hunsberger sees freedom as always being on the edge.
“We as a country are a shining city on a hill,” says Hunsberger quoting former president Ronald Reagan. He stresses that we should never let the shine grow dim.