INDIANA SPIRIT OF 45: Always Loved, Forever Honored, Never Forgotten
Written by: Robin Reid, Storyteller/Content Manager
According to the United States Census Bureau in 2016, less than one percent of U.S. adults were actively serving in the military. From 1968 to 2016, the number of people on active duty dramatically reduced from 3.5 to 1.3 million. Keep in mind the draft ended in 1973.
“That’s less than one per 100 individuals willing to serve our great country,” said Bruce McKee, a U.S. Air Force veteran and founder of Indiana Spirit of ‘45. “May we remember those who protect our freedom, which lets us sleep at night.”
The Census Bureau also reported the share of population with military experience was declining. In 2016, seven percent of all adults were veterans – a decrease of 18% since 1980. Regardless of the military branch or war served, veterans have earned our respect and recognition.
Always Loved, Forever Honored, Never Forgotten is the mission of Indiana Spirit of 45, led by McKee, its founder and director. Indiana Spirit of ‘45 was built on the foundation of a national organization known as Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive.
“Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive originated in New York City and San Diego in 2010 with the backing of community leaders, congressional representatives, and even celebrities,” McKee said. “I just happened to be ‘surfing the web’ when I came across the site. I reached out to the founder, Warren Hegg and told him I wanted to start an Indiana chapter. He was all for it.”
Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive is a national grassroots campaign to preserve the legacy of America’s “greatest generation” – men and women who endured the Great Depression and/or served during World War II.
In 2010, McKee partnered with the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and American Legion to host the first Indiana Spirit of ’45 event on the Martinsville Square. “We honor those who bravely fought during World War II and teach our younger generations what it means to serve, respect and protect our great nation,” added McKee.
Bruce comes from a long line of veterans. His fourth great grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War. His father was an Army veteran who served (1943-1946) during World War II. Bruce joined the U.S. Air Force at the age of 17 and served on a mobile combat support team (1979-1986) in Korea, and his son, Jeremy currently serves in the National Guard.
“Someone in my family has served in every conflict,” said McKee.
Bruce is a busy man as he works a full-time job, spends time with his family, and leads the Indiana Spirit of ’45. He is thankful for his wife, Jennifer, and the support she gives to him. High school “sweethearts,” Bruce and Jennifer have been married for 38 years. They have three children and two grandsons.
When asked who has had the greatest impact on his life, Bruce said his father, Robin McKee taught him all about love, family, service and tradition. Mr. McKee died on August 2, 1988. For the past 20+ years on August 2, Bruce has visited his father’s grave to play “Taps” to honor his dad.
Using his musical talent for greater purpose, Bruce joined Bugles Across America in 2003. This organization was founded in 2000 after Congress passed legislation noting veterans had the right to at least two, uniformed military to fold the American Flag and play Taps (on a CD player) at gravesite services. However, Bugles across America believed veterans deserved something better and sought buglers to play “Taps” live.
McKee’s took this group’s dedication one more step further and started “Taps on the Square” in December 2012. It can rain, snow or be bitterly cold, but that doesn’t stop McKee and many others from honoring fallen veterans, law enforcement/first responders killed on duty and recovered Prisoners of War (POWs) and Missing in Action (MIAs) every Friday night in downtown Martinsville.
“We’ve not missed Taps on the Square for 304 weeks in a row,” said McKee. “We read at least 125-130 names every week.”
On the lawn of the Morgan County Courthouse every Friday night, you’ll find McKee and others getting ready to honor our heroes. At 6:40 p.m. there is a “meet ‘n greet” followed by the reading of names at 6:55 p.m. and live “Taps” played at 7 p.m.
Indiana Spirit of ’45 uses social media, particularly Facebook, to promote its purpose and events. In addition, Bruce spends many hours researching POWs and MIAs and when someone has been recovered and returned home, he posts the information on Facebook, as a way to honor their sacrificial service.
Bruce also travels across Indiana to provide bugler services and has participated in Indiana Honor Flight ceremonies.
In addition to “Taps on the Square,” Indiana Spirit of ’45 oversees the maintenance and restoration of the Veterans Memorial on the courthouse square. Earlier this year, the memorial was vandalized when flags, crosses and the Star of David were stolen. It was also discovered bricks and mortar had deteriorated and needed repair.
Thanks to the efforts and generous donations from businesses and individuals, the memorial was restored. “Bender Lumber donated paint and primer while a local Boy Scout troop cleaned the crosses and Star of David,” added McKee. “We raised about $10,000 for this project.”
Indiana Spirit of ’45 is also a proud sponsor of the Battle Buddy Support Group. Led by U.S. Air Force Veteran Jerry Vest, veterans are helping other veterans struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), depression and/or re-entering civilian life. Battle Buddy Support is open to veterans from all branches of service. This group meets every 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month at The Source, 77 E. Washington Street, Martinsville, 6:30 p.m.
“It’s a time to talk and a place to heal with no pressure or judgment,” McKee said.
With Veterans Day coming up on Sunday, now is a good time to honor local men and women who bravely served our country. Donate today to the Indiana Spirit of ’45 Fund through the Community Foundation of Morgan County (CFMC) at www.cfmconline.org.