Judge Kostrzewa gives honor and encouragement to Muskegon County veterans



By Diana L. Coleman
Legal News


Veteran’s Day 2016 was a beautiful day with a backdrop of blue skies as a huge crowd gathered at Veteran’s Memorial Park to honor all who have served our country. Muskegon American Legion Post No. 9 and Ravenna American Legion Post No. 297 hosted the ceremonies.

It was heart-warming to see such a large crowd, representing all ages and many different wars and conflicts, assembled.  

Dan Weikel of Muskegon Post 9 welcomed all and thanked them for taking time from their schedules to pay tribute to the men and women who served and the many who gave all for our country.  The Posting of the Colors was conducted by Ravenna Post 9.  Some of the men taking part may have walked a bit slowly, or with a limp, but they walked proudly with their heads high as they presented the American Flag and the POW/MIA flag.  

Reeths-Puffer Middle School band, under the leadership of Richard Erne, provided music for the ceremonies.  The band played the song for each branch of the military (five) and it was grand to see the Veterans stand (f they could), sing, and/or cheer when the branch in which they served was recognized. The band did an amazing job considering the cold wind off the lake made it a challenge for them.

Dave Eling, Director of Veteran’s Affairs for Muskegon County, brought remarks about the dedicated and wonderful group of veterans in our county. Eling has served Muskegon County veterans tirelessly for many years and works hard on their behalf, always seeking the proper treatment and benefits to which they are entitled. He was recognized for his labors on behalf of the veterans and involvement in establishing Muskegon County’s veteran’s court by the Muskegon County Bar Association in 2014 when they presented him with the Liberty Bell Award.  (The Liberty Bell Award is presented to a member of the Muskegon community who is a non-lawyer, but has dedicated himself or herself to the rule of law and the betterment of the community.) In this case, Eling was honored for helping members of the community who had served their country get their lives back on track through treatment, community service, and regaining a feeling of self-worth.

Eling also donates vast amounts of his own time to preserving and improving Veteran’s Memorial Park and, by they sound of continuing projects he described, will continue to do so.

The Honorable Raymond J. Kostrzewa, Chief Judge of the 60th District Court for Muskegon County and judge of the Veteran’s Court, was the keynote speaker.  He paid tribute to all those who have served our country and observed how much we all owe to the Veterans.  He emphasized that we, as Americans, enjoy personal freedom unequaled around the world.  Kostrzewa explained his family and its immigration to this country and how very, very proud his father was to be an American.  He remembered his father displaying the American Flag on all appropriate holidays.  “We were not well off enough to have a fancy flag pole,” said Kostrzewa, “but he had a holder on our front porch and would always make sure the American flag was displayed with pride and treated with respect.”

Judge Kostrzewa explained the Veteran’s Court to the crowd.  The veterans need our help, he said, and there are programs and people who have dedicated themselves to trying to bring veterans who have fallen on hard times, become dependent upon drugs and other substances, are homeless, or have broken the law, back into society.  The goal is not to give them a “get out free card,” but to work with them and make them feel they are a valuable, productive part of our community.  Kostrzewa gave high praise to all who have worked with the Veteran’s Court in many different capacities.  It takes many different people from many different agencies and walks of life to help the men and women of our armed forces put their lives back together, he said. 

Judge Kostrzewa thanked a long list of people, but he gave special thanks to attorney Gary Britton.  Gary Britton, a Vietnam War-era veteran, has become the “Veteran’s Defender” in Muskegon County — and he does so pro bono (completely free of charge) as a service to his fellow veterans.   If a veteran is down on his or her luck, in bad personal circumstances, homeless, in trouble with the law, or whatever the offense may be, Gary Britton has stepped forward and given of himself so these veterans get a second chance.

The stage area and all around the north end of the park was decorated by many beautiful large mum plants provided by Weesies Nursery and then donated for veterans or their ladies to take home as a remembrance of the day.

The “Operation Black Sheep” organization has brought a Vietnam War Patrol Boat River (PBR) to Muskegon.  A Vietnam War veteran who was a PBR operator in Nam and a local veteran have made it possible. The PBR is currently being restored; it will be permanently moored next to the USS LST 393 Veterans Museum and available for public viewing and rides on Muskegon Lake in the spring. All veterans wishing to take a ride on the PBR next summer will do so for free.

The ceremonies were closed by the Reeths-Puffer band playing “God Bless America” led by Flo Predko and Heather Maycroft.  The 21-Gun Rifle Salute was presented by American Legion Post No. 9 followed by the playing of Taps. There were very few dry eyes in the crowd as all thought personally about those who have served our country, whether they were friends, family members, or even strangers.  The love of country and bond of patriotism was palpable as the group quietly dispersed.  

May they never be forgotten by those for whom they fought and may we show deep gratitude for the freedoms we all enjoy in this country because of their sacrifices.  Thank you to all veterans of the United States of America.