May 30—MERCER — Crowds of people gathered Monday for the annual Mercer Memorial Day 500, many in patriotic red-white-and-blue clothes that blended with more than 500 American flags posted throughout the area.
Some active-duty veterans wore their dress uniforms, while older vets sported hats or shirts with their branch or years of service.
But Grove City resident Jon Baker, president of Time-Line Enterprises and an Army veteran himself, wore the green tiger-striped camouflage often worn during the Vietnam War — which was over long before he enlisted.
Accompanying him and an associate was a tent filled with Vietnam-era equipment, ranging from clothes to weapons.
"I got into re-enacting back in '96," Baker said.
Baker served in the Army from 1986 through 1995, then re-enlisted from 2002 through 2019 after the 9/11 attacks. His service included a tour in Iraq in 2003.
As a veteran, Baker said Memorial Day and observances such as the Mercer Memorial Day 500 were important occasions to remember those who served and gave their lives, despite the otherwise festive atmosphere.
Part of the display even included a "soldier's cross," a helmet atop a rifle, posted on a pair of boots.
"It is a veterans holiday, but it's especially important for those who didn't come back," Baker said. "I myself had a couple friends in Iraq that were killed and didn't come home."
Through Time-Line Enterprises, Baker provides ministry at re-enactments and educational outreach, with the display Monday morning helping to connect younger and older generations.
Although the young people he shares information with weren't alive for the Vietnam War, they were often familiar with the weapons because of historical video games. This made the youths interested in learning some real-life history, Baker said.
Meanwhile, older people and especially veterans saw the display and reminisced about their years of service, giving Baker a chance to learn a few things himself.
"We'll talk about our respective times in the service, and they'll often tell me a few things that I can share with others," Baker said.
The Mercer Memorial Day 500 event included the Jason Michaels Memorial 5K race, a ceremony that posthumously recognized three local veterans, and a parade. Music by The Basement Band was provided throughout the morning.
Vendors and booths were arranged along North Diamond Street, providing food and information on various organizations, including the Pennsylvania National Guard and the Western Pennsylvania Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT.
Later when the parade began, some of the participants included local organizations such as the East End Fire Department, the Mercer Community Band and the Mercer Area Junior Senior High School's Mustang Marching Band.
As the parade proceeded down South Pitt Street, they eventually passed under a large American flag held aloft by two fire trucks.
Among the event's spectators were Mercer residents and brothers, Luke Thumm, 12, and Garrett Thumm, 17.
This year, the Thumms said their brother Chase Thumm marched with the Mustang Marching Band. However, attending the event has always been a tradition for the family, regardless of participation in the parade.
"We've been coming here for years," Garrett said.
Although the brothers did not have any immediate family members who served in the military, Garrett said it was still important to honor those that served and died overseas.
Luke added that it was also important to remember the veterans who did survive, but returned home with physical and mental injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Some people survived, but they came home different," Luke said.
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