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The Indiana Operation Welcome Home celebration did more than embrace and thank the veterans who poured onto the grounds of the National Military History Center in Auburn to listen to music, grab a ride in a Huey helicopter, or gaze at the traveling Vietnam Wall. The event also benefited a Fort Wayne homeless shelter that was struggling to complete a suite of rooms designed to serve homeless vets.

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The Shepherd’s House in Fort Wayne has been around for 10 years. Both the founder, Lonnie Cox, and the Director, Jim “Gunny” Zuber are Ex-Marines who are passionate about trying to help their fellow vets. When the organizers of Operation Welcome Home read about Shepherd’s House and the problems of the facility’s need to raise $3,000 to complete the suite, they decided that it was a cause worth “rallying the troops” for. Mike Jackson and Tara Dixon-Engel, President and Vice President of the American Veterans Institute, pledged the $3,000 to Lonnie Cox and his wife Barbara, who operate the center. Then, Robert Krafft, Director of the National Military History Center, and his staff began working with the AVI officials to raise the needed funds throughout the weekend celebration.

Organizers were thrilled to announce that not only did they raise the $3,000, but many local organizations and churches have pledged support to Shepherd’s House. “Many people who dropped money into our buckets Saturday night also told me that their churches were taking up a special collection on Sunday,” Dixon-Engel said. “It was truly heart-warming to see how the citizens of Indiana responded to our veterans in need. And the folks at the National Military History Center deserve a huge pat on the back. They spread the word and worked tirelessly to raise that money. Every one of our Operation Welcome Home events is a little different, but this one will live on as the one that truly reinforced our belief in people and in good old fashioned faith!”

They presented a check for $2,300, plus one for $650, donated by Mr. of Auburn, and one for $50 — totaling $3,000 — to Lonnie and Barbara Cox on the last day of the celebration, July 6.

The four-day event drew over 10,000 veterans, families and patriots. “We talked to a lot of people who brought veteran family members to the celebration for its healing qualities. They were not disappointed,” said AVI president Mike Jackson. “The Huey 369 was a big hit with the Vietnam guys. A number of people told me they had not been in a Huey since they left Vietnam…several of them on stretchers! Climbing into that chopper again was like coming full circle; only this time with a heroe’s welcome — as it should be. It really had meaning to them.”