Daniel A. Cunningham has unselfishly supported his country, community and veterans for more than fifty years. He began his military career in Field Artillery, serving in successive increasing leadership positions. Much of his community service has been with the Boy Scouts of America from which he received a fifty-year certificate in 2022. Ten of those years were as an adult leader preparing over 150 young men to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes. Since retiring from military service in 1989, Daniel Cunningham has continually volunteered with the Boy Scouts of America districts and councils, always encouraging the development of outdoor and leadership skills. He led and helped facilitate 12 district camporees with over 400 youth participants at each, as well as a council jamboree for over 3,000 youth participants. He served eight years as Chair for the council canoe training program, as well as the District Committee Chair that funded operations and enabled over 25 underprivileged youth to attend Boy Scout Summer Camp. Cunningham’s outstanding service to youth was recognized through the award of the Council Silver Beaver Award, the highest recognition a Boy Scout Council can bestow an adult volunteer leader. As a 57-year member of the American Legion, he has been a leader of veteran and community service programs at the post and district levels. He served 11 years on a Purdue University industry advisory board, where he initiated a student mentoring program by leaders with industry. Deeply committed to serving his community, Cunningham’s leading by example will survive him as a testament to his servant leadership.
Randall L. Davis served in the U.S. Army as a Finance Specialist at Ft. Knox and in Germany. It was in the military where he discovered that he had a servant’s heart. After trying out a series of jobs upon leaving the Army, he received the call for the ministry where he has continued to help others in need. As a community pastor at several different churches in eastern Indiana for the past 35 years, he performed veteran funerals, visited hospitals and nursing homes, counseled veterans and helped the members of his congregation. However, it was when he accompanied a friend to the VA Hospital for treatment that he noticed so many veterans sad and depressed and fighting their own battles. It was then that he decided he needed to help in some way. Davis founded the McDonald Gift Card project where he collected funds for over 7,000 gift cards that would be given to veterans. Eventually the program was expanded to include veteran programs, memorial observances, parades and other veteran activities. Pastor Davis, in 2014, started a new program “A Better Life – Brianna’s Hope”. After officiating at a community tragedy where a young lady died as a result of drugs, he started a local war on drugs where addicts could get help. The organization has now grown to 45 chapters in different cities in Indiana, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina. Davis also expanded the program into schools. He also does a weekly podcast called Faith in Your Recovery. He has been recognized by several eastern Indiana communities and organizations as volunteer and citizen of the year, as well as being awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award in Portland, Indiana.
Charles R. Eckart served over 28 years in the U.S. Army, beginning his career as an Airborne Platoon Leader. He has served in a variety of assignments, including Assistant Professor of English at his alma mater, the U.S. Military Academy; Battalion Commander of the 212th S&S Battalion; and Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics of the 123rd Army Reserve Command. For the past 23 years he has volunteered as the Indiana District 9 West Point Liaison, where he helps many students navigate their way from a high school teenager to an officer in the U.S. Army. Eckart has made a positive impact upon the community in Harrison County through his passion for serving those in need and providing for the homeless, underserved and veterans. He was instrumental in starting a free community meal program that serves over 200 hot meals each Monday evening. He has served as a Past Board Member and President of the South Harrison Community School Board, has provided oversight for youth summer training programs and has been active in the numerous organizations. Most notable has been his work with the Harrison Township Trustees. His successful grant writing leveraged a $465,200 grant by the Harrison Community Foundation for emergency radios and equipment for the fire departments in Harrison County to update to a new digital emergency communications system. He is a true leader which emanates from his extensive military career, mentorship of others, his support of education and his community support volunteer work.
Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom distinguished himself as a combat pilot and astronaut. Unfortunately, his life was cut short while serving his country on Apollo 1. He and fellow astronauts Edward White and Roger Chaffee became the first casualties of the U.S. Space Program. Grissom flew 100 combat missions in Korea and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal for his actions. In 1958 he received the unexpected “Top Secret” message to report to Washington D.C. and was selected as one of over 100 test pilots invited to learn more about the space program. Grissom was chosen for NASA’s Project Mercury in April 1959. His space legacy began with his trip aboard the Liberty Bell 7 Mercury spacecraft. As the command pilot for the Gemini mission, Grissom was the first astronaut from NASA to travel to space twice. Besides commanding Mercury and Gemini flights, he helped design the Gemini multi-axis thrusters. Tragically he was killed in a fire on January 27, 1967, in the Apollo 1 capsule during a simulated launch exercise. His distinguished career includes over 4,600 hours of flight time, awarding of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, and the Exceptional Service Medal. He has been inducted into both the National Aviation Hall of Fame and the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. In recognition of his contributions to aviation, military and space flight, the Grissom Crater on the Moon, the Grissom Hill on Mars, Grissom Air Reserve Base, and the Purdue University School of Aeronautics were named in his honor.
Timothy L. Hilton is a Hoosier veteran who is making a difference in the lives of other veterans. After his military service he returned to Indiana to attend college and work for Eli Lilly Corporation. Soon after, however, he found his passion for volunteer work, starting out as a volunteer firefighter and ultimately working with various veteran organizations. Hilton initially began volunteering with the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Navy Club Ship 12 of Lafayette. He moved through the ranks to National Executive Secretary of the Navy Club, and was elected as National Commandant. He also served as the President of the Tippecanoe Veterans Council and worked with Gold Star families to develop the Lafayette Honor Flights. He also worked with the Lafayette Parks Department and the Lafayette mayor to renovate the Memorial Island and Memorial Plaza. Realizing that there was no memorial in the park to honor Vietnam veterans, he met with veterans to design and raise funds for a Vietnam monument. Hilton’s work with the program “Stand Down of Lafayette” provides assistance to homeless veterans and their families at risk of homelessness. He also testified before Indiana legislatures and provided support for legislation that would expand the use of the Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for treatment of veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Injuries. In concert with Tippecanoe County and Lafayette leaders, Hilton began working with local legal authorities to develop their Veterans Court Program. Hilton was recognized with the Distinguished Hoosier Award by the State of Indiana in 2020.
Senator Richard G. Lugar served in the U.S. Navy from 1955-1958, where his most significant assignment was as a Personal Intelligence Briefer for the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Arleigh Burke. His political career began in 1964 being elected to the Indiana Board of School Commissioners. Lugar went on to serve two terms as Indianapolis’ Mayor from 1968-1976. He was instrumental in extending the Indianapolis city government to the suburbs, known as Uni-Gov, to keep downtown Indianapolis thriving and become a city with national recognition. He was elected to the United States Senate in 1976 and served from 1977 – 2013. He is best known for his bi-partisan leadership and commitment to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons. His lasting non-proliferation work could be considered a tremendous contribution to our world today. His highest award was the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded by President Obama in 2013. Lugar launched the non-profit Lugar Center in 2013 which is dedicated to proposing solutions to global problems that will define the 21st Century. The Center seeks to educate the public, global policymakers, and future leaders on critical issues such as food and energy security, controlling weapons of mass destruction, and effective governance.
Jackie N. Morrison entered the Army at Ft. Knox, Kentucky in November 1966 and was soon assigned to the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, where he distinguished himself by heroism while participating in aerial flight while serving with the 11th Air Cavalry Troop in the Republic of Vietnam. While on a low-level reconnaissance mission he spotted five enemy soldiers lying camouflaged in a ditch. After marking the position with smoke for an air strike, he raked the hostile troops with highly accurate suppressive fire. As a result of his courage and devotion to duty, he was awarded the Air Medal with Valor device. Sergeant Morrison was also awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious achievement in ground operations against a hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam from August 1967 – April 1969. Morrison transferred to helicopter maintenance where he served in multiple Army air operations in South Korea, Kentucky, Germany and New Mexico. While assigned to White Sands Missile Range, he was also recognized for support of the First Manned Orbital Flight of the Space Shuttle. Morrison was awarded the Purple Heart twice, received several Air Medals, earned the Combat Infantry Badge and was presented with numerous other awards. Morrison was medically retired in 2003 as a Chief Warrant Officer, but continued to serve veterans for 16 years as the Spencer County Veterans Officer.
Stanley O. Nelson joined the Army in 1949 and completed training at Ft Knox. Initially sent to Japan, he was assigned to the 8th Engineer Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division in Korea. During the engagement of Task Force Crombez, then Private Nelson courageously engaged the enemy to prevent their attempts to destroy the armor and cover his tank’s blind side. Although hostile rocket launch crews made all-out attempts to stop the advancing column, Private Nelson, though wounded, constantly displayed outstanding fighting qualities and an eagerness to close with the enemy. Aided by his courage and selfless devotion to duty, the Task Force smashed through the 4 ½ mile defensive position, killing over 500 enemy soldiers and arriving at the objective in time to repulse a strong assault by the Chinese. On February 14th, 1951, he was taken prisoner by the Chinese near Chipyong Ni, Korea. He was severely wounded by small arms fire in the right shoulder, right foot, left leg, and left foot. He lost his left leg as a result of these injuries. He was rescued when U.S. troops advanced and he spent the next 11 months in a veteran’s hospital. Stanley was awarded the Silver Star, the Purple Heart with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Prisoner of War Medal, the Korean Service Medal with four bronze service stars, the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation Badge and an individual conferment of the French Croix de Guerre by the Government of France.
James E. O’Donnell was drafted into the Navy in 1944 and left his Indianapolis to serve in WWII. Assigned to the USS Indianapolis, he was on board when the ship delivered the atomic bomb destined for Hiroshima. When the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in the early hours of July 30th, 1945 O’Donnell was one of the 1,196 men on board. After 108 hours in shark infested waters, Jimmy and his shipmates were rescued; however only 317 men survived. For his service he was awarded the Purple Heart, the Asiatic Pacific Medal with 5 stars and the Medal of Peace. O’Donnell was the sole survivor of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis from the city of Indianapolis. Following the war, O’Donnell served 35 years as a Firefighter for the Indianapolis Fire Department achieving the rank of Lieutenant. He was also a member of the American Legion, VFW, AMVETS, the Knights of Columbus and Our Lady of Lourdes parish. In 1995 the Indianapolis Star gave him the prestigious honor of naming him “Man of the Year.” This honor was bestowed upon him for his military accomplishments and his unwavering dedication to the completion of the USS Indianapolis National Memorial on the Canal in downtown Indianapolis memorializing his lost shipmates and survivors. Jimmy O’Donnell passed away in 2013 at the age of 92.
Frederick H. Panhorst, after attending Purdue University for one year, enlisted in the U.S. Army, attended the Warrant Officer Rotary Aviator Course and soon found himself in Vietnam. Panhorst was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry and valor for his heroic actions on December 10th, 1968 while serving as an aircraft commander with the 25th Aviation Battalion. His team was assigned to support an element of 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry that was under heavy contact. Upon arriving over the area of contact, his aircraft attacked the communist forces with rockets, mini-guns and door-gun fire. Learning that one of the wounded needed immediate evacuation, he made several low-level passes causing the enemy fire to be aimed at his own craft, thereby allowing the lead ship to make a successful evacuation. His valorous actions were responsible for the saving of many lives and the success of the mission. Panhorst continued his military career with a direct commission to aviation, where he received the Air Medal, Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Senior Army Aviator Badge, and numerous other citations. He later joined the Indiana State Police, was a member of the Underwater Search and Recovery Team, served on the Governor’s Security Detail and was a Forensic Document Examiner with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory. He was awarded the Sagamore of the Wabash, one of the highest honors bestowed upon a citizen of Indiana.
Robert E. Pedigo entered the Army Air Corps in October 1942 and received training as an airplane armorer and gunner. After training he was assigned to the 8th Air Force as a chief armorer and nose-gunner. Pedigo flew in 30 offensive bombing missions over Northern France and the Rhineland, including Berlin and during the Normandy invasion with the 453rd Bombardment Group. On D-Day, Pedigo was on a B-24 Liberator that crossed the English Channel to bomb a German encampment behind Omaha Beach. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroic actions while participating in hostile aerial flight as a B-24 nose gunner in Europe during World War II. He was also awarded the Air Medal with 3 oak leaf clusters and several other citations. Pedigo was the youngest of a group sent to New York in preparation for the Lukas-Harold plant, as it was being built in Indianapolis to manufacture the Norden Bomb Sight. He eventually retired from that plant which had been renamed the Naval Avionics Facility Indianapolis. He was honored in the 2016 Indy 500 parade, as well as being named a Sagamore of the Wabash in 2022. A born storyteller, Pedigo still appears frequently at veteran events throughout the state of Indiana. Bob Pedigo recently celebrated his 100th birthday in October 2023.
Tammy S. Sgro served in various combat operations and mobilized to support Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom, operating and sustaining a combat zone hospital during wartime operations. As Senior Enlisted Leader for the Korean Peninsula, she ensured operational support for the fleet. As a Chief Petty Officer, she was the first sailor who was not a Mass Communication Specialist to join the Expeditionary Combat Camera Unit. In that position she provided visual information capability in support of sea, undersea, air and ground operations. She later served as a police officer on the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, as well as Evidence Technician and Supervisor. Her expertise led to a position in the Indiana Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, where Sgro provided technical, administrative and intelligence reporting for Counter-Intelligence and Cybersecurity. Sgro has been an advocate for veterans by serving as a longtime member of various service organizations. In these organizations she has promoted veterans’ services, legislative advocacy and military and community service programs. She served for several years on the State of Indiana Navy Funeral Honors Detail, as well as representing the Navy in their Color Guard team. She serves as a sponsor for Navy Chief Selects, where she mentors, trains and prepares sailors to assume the responsibilities of a Navy Chief Petty Officer. She also founded and is the Director for the Alliance of Fierce Military Women, which provides support and resources for Women of the Armed Forces, past and present.
Harry B. Sutton was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism involving aerial flight evidenced by voluntary actions above and beyond the call of duty on June 2, 1969 in the Republic of Vietnam. Sutton distinguished himself while serving as aircraft commander of a command and control helicopter in the vicinity of Tem Ky. He received a distress call from an aircraft hit by heavy automatic weapons fire. The damaged aircraft radioed that a man had been wounded and required immediate medical attention. Sutton flew to a small hillside rice paddy and landed beside the disabled aircraft despite heavy anti-aircraft fire. The wounded man was placed on board and flown to the nearest medical facility. His courage and sound judgement along with his outstanding flying ability in the face of great personal danger enabled him to make a difficult and dangerous rescue which resulted in the saving of a man’s life. Sutton was also recognized with the Air Medal for actively participating in twenty-five aerial missions in the Republic of Vietnam in support of counterinsurgency operations. He was determined to accomplish his mission in spite of the hazards inherent in repeated aerial flights over hostile territory.
Robert P. Whitis, Sr. had achieved a career in Armor, when he found inspiration in President John F. Kennedy’ s inaugural speech, where the newly elected President said “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” This is when he made the decision to apply for the Army’s most elite fighting force, the Green Berets. After receiving extensive Special Forces training at Ft. Bragg, NC, he was shipped off to serve in Vietnam. He participated in many classified missions, flew over 100 combat flight hours and earned the Air Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, the Parachute Badge, the Army Commendation Medal and a Bronze Star with Valor for operations during a classified intelligence gathering mission. Whitis distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions while serving as a member of a platoon during a reconnaissance mission in the An Loa Valley, Republic of Vietnam. He volunteered for an intelligence mission of extreme danger, into an area where Viet Cong forces were in complete control. In seven years this valley had not been entered by Vietnamese or American forces. Whitis displayed courage by volunteering without hesitation to enter this area where the population was in complete support of the Viet Cong. Through his courage, determination and devotion to duty, Whitis contributed immeasurably to the success of the mission.
Lisa A. Wilken has represented Indiana veterans through a variety of service organizations and is a leading advocate for veteran issues, especially in matters related to military sexual trauma and PTSD. Her hard work has contributed to the passage of bills such as veteran, active duty and reserve income tax exemptions; tuition and fee programs for the children of disabled veterans and recognition of female veterans. Wilken has worked with many groups throughout the State of Indiana, as well as national organizations, in advocating for veteran’s issues and promoting legislation that benefits veterans. She has volunteered her time to testify on bills related to veteran disability, creation of the position of the State Women Veteran Coordinator at the Indiana Department of Veteran Affairs, hyperbaric oxygen therapy for traumatic brain injured and post-traumatic stress veterans, protecting veterans’ privacy, the accreditation of Veteran Service Officers and numerous other issues. She has also testified before Congress about funding the care for military sexual trauma veterans. In 2017 she was honored by the State of Indiana with the Torchbearer Award for her veteran advocacy. Wilken’s military story and her experiences with the VA medical center and disability process were featured in a story by the Indianapolis Star that went national on the front page of USA Today. She has been featured in over 50 interviews with local television stations and newspapers about her advocacy work for Hoosier veterans.