Butler County honors veterans, recognizes special few on Veterans Day

The Butler County Veterans Service Commission held its annual celebration on Veterans Day on Monday, and Butler County Common Pleas Judge Noah Powers had a strong message: “We should remember that Veterans Day is not about sales, it’s about service.”

Powers was the keynote speaker for the annual Butler County Veterans Service Commission celebration honoring all veterans, including retired Marine Lt. Colonel Bob Perry, this year’s Veteran of the Year, at the Colligan Lodge in Hamilton Monday.

Perry grew up in Indianapolis and embarked on a pre-med course at Butler University when the Korean War began. He said his sense of patriotism “fired up” and he left college after a year and a half and joined the Navy. He won an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy and became an officer in the U.S. Marines flying helicopters.

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His first tour of duty was a “black operation” between the Philippines and Vietnam, before the war officially began in 1956. Next, he spent 15 months on the ground in Vietnam and returned in the early 1970s when the war was winding down. A fourth mission sent him on a cruise through the Mediterranean for seven months. In total, he was out of country four times over three and a half years.

It took Perry four years of night school to earn a degree from the Detroit College of Law, and he practiced law for 23 years after that.

Perry also served 10 years as a commissioner on the vet board, and BCVSC Service Officer Mike Farmer had high praise for his former boss.

“Mr. Perry made an indelible mark on the Marine Corps and the Butler County community,” Farmer told the crowd of veterans and dignitaries. “Bob was the pillar of strength for many of our employees within the commission and the staff extends a big thank you for everything you did for us.”

Perry was on the commission during turbulent times for the agency tasked with serving an estimated 27,000 county veterans. During the height of the problems in 2013, only 4,808 were served. Last year, the board helped 6,286 veterans and their families get VA benefits and a host of other services.

Perry and former vet board president Danny Biondo were instrumental in transforming the once-hostile board, largely by ousting former executive director Curt McPherson.

MORE: Butler County Veteran of the Year honored

McPherson was accused of bullying staff and racial slurs, something that forced a $20,000 settlement with a former employee who threatened to sue.

Perry said the board was dysfunctional, but he wanted to make it clear, it wasn’t due to the staff at the commission.

“There was several years of lack of good work,” he said. “Except for the staff. Now the staff under that un-leadership group, the staff did outstanding. They did so well I thought they were all Marines. In my mind they’re honorary Marines because they did such an outstanding job through the mess. The mess is now cleared up.”

Powers, who appoints commissioners, also noted that 2016 Veteran of the Year Ron Dzikowski was recently inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame.

Dzikowski told the Journal-News he was in “disbelief” when he was told about the honor, especially when he thought about national leaders like astronauts and political figures who are also in that hall of fame.

“You’re really a part of them and it’s very, very humbling, very, very proud,” he said.

Perry was also characteristically humble.

“I’m not sure I’ve done anything, I’m not sure why I’m up here, because I’ve just lived life and I helped people when I could and who I could,” he told the crowd at the Colligan Lodge.

He credited the support of his wife of 63 years, Bunny, who passed away in March, their son, Bob, their daughter-in-law, Mary, and his fellow veterans.

“I have been blessed beyond reason, beyond understanding and I appreciate so much my family and all of you who have given support over the years,” he said.

Powers said that Veterans Day has become commercialized with sales and specials, but the true meaning must never be forgotten.

“America’s veterans have served their country with the belief that democracy and freedom are ideals to be upheld around the world,” Powers said. “We are the home of the free because of you the brave. For your courage, your industry, your dedication to our country and its ideals, we thank you.

“Honoring the sacrifices you have made for our country in the name of freedom and democracy is the very foundation of this magnificent holiday.”

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