A 17-year Tradition Is Returning to Greenwood
Writer / Julie Yates
The annual Greenwood Freedom Festival, traditionally held on the Saturday leading up to the Fourth of July, is an eagerly anticipated Johnson County celebration. More than 50,000 people attend the June 29 event held at Craig Park. It begins with a parade at noon and concludes with spectacular fireworks. Sandwiched between are multiple opportunities for attendees of all ages to enjoy themselves: live musical entertainment; a Kid Zone with children’s activities, such as face painting and games; and more than 200 booths for vendors, local businesses, breweries, and restaurants. One of the most popular segments of the festival is the Honor Our Heroes ceremony.
Sponsored by Grace Assembly of God church, Honor Our Heroes has a 17-year tradition in Greenwood. This will be the third year it will be held during the Freedom Festival. The early evening ceremony takes place on the KORN Country 100.3 stage and honors law enforcement, fire fighters, veterans, and active military personnel. Filled with patriotic music and prayer, it is a community thank-you to individuals who guard our country’s freedom.
Wayne Murray, lead pastor at Grace Assembly of God, explains the history of Honor Our Heroes, “After the September 11, 2001 attacks, patriotism was running high. In 2002, the church had ‘Patriotic Sunday’ right before the Fourth of July to honor vets, fire fighters, and the police force. We took the service outside and had a first responder from ground zero speak. Each person honored received an American flag afghan. We were expecting 300 people but 1,000 showed up”
“The ceremony became a tradition for the church,” Murray says. “As the years went on, it began being held in the evening. Fireworks and vendors were added but there was always a one-hour ceremony for local heroes where they were given a gift such as a hat or a medal. We had speakers such as Mike Pence, before he became Vice President, and Indianapolis Colts football player, Jeff Saturday.”
As time went on, attendance for Honor Our Heroes grew to between four and five thousand people. The church choir and band performed music such as “God Bless America”, “America the Beautiful” and the national anthem. With the support of the city, it was held on the Sunday night immediately following the Freedom Festival. Then, Murray and the congregation had a realization that two events made a lot of labor for the people they were celebrating.
“Without meaning to, we realized we were unintentionally making it difficult for first responders,” Murray says. “So, we partnered with the city and brought Honor Our Heroes to the Freedom Festival. Our church members already made up a lot of the volunteers at the festival, so it was the perfect pairing.”
“We think people want to say thank-you to our community heroes and our church is grateful we have the opportunity to do that. We are so glad that Mayor Mark Myers and marketing director Molly Laut understand how important it is and see the value of saying thank you,” Murray says.