By MAX FILBY
For Capt. Mark Lichak, 9/11 wasn’t his reason for joining the Army, but it helped to “seal the deal.”
Lichak, 32, of Findlay, officially joined the Army in September 2001 after contemplating the decision throughout high school. Almost 13 years later, he was honored Saturday as the “Soldier of the Year” at the Armed Forces Day Celebration at the Hancock County Fairgrounds.
“It feels exceptional,” Lichak said. “I’m very honored.”
Lichak said receiving the award in Findlay was special.
“Findlay is probably the one place I have a perfect mental map of. I can still tell you where everything is,” Lichak said.
The award is “very significant to me and it’s very humbling.”
Lichak was one of several people honored during the celebration’s opening ceremony on Saturday.
The Findlay Military Association, which hosts the annual celebration, also selected five Vietnam veterans to receive the “Veteran of the Year” honor. The recipients are Cpl. Thomas Brown, Sgt. David Johnson, Spc. James Elsea, 1st Lt. Joseph Charles Sear Jr., and Master Sgt. Donald Beichler.
Roger Neff, past commander of the Findlay Military Association, said the group normally honors one veteran a year.
But Vietnam veterans deserve extra attention, he said. This is the 50th anniversary of “Ground Vietnam,” Neff said. “Ground Vietnam” is the length of time the United States had “boots on the ground” in Vietnam, Neff said.
More than 3 million men and women served in the Vietnam War, with 58,000 U.S. dead and more than 1,600 still missing.
The association also honored Neff, who has been involved in planning Armed Forces Day Celebrations in Hancock County for years. While he is no longer commander of the association, Neff still had a big hand in planning this weekend’s festivities.
Visitors to the celebration also heard from U.S. Nursing Corps veteran Roberta Mershon, who served in the Vietnam War from 1969 to 1970. Mershon praised the United States military for being inclusive and for being a support system for people involved in the military.
“They will forever be our brothers,” she said.
Although Mershon is proud of her service in the military, she said her experience in Vietnam was a difficult one, learning how to care for people in the rapid pace of a combat zone.
Mershon said for the people sent home with life-altering injuries, the war was “like reading a book, but never reading the last chapter.”
Mershon, who is from Indianapolis, was sought out by the Findlay Military Association to speak about “Ground Vietnam.”