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Indy 500 Highlights Military Service

By Staff Sgt. Jeff Lowry

INDIANAPOLIS , May 26, 2009 - Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau, was the keynote speaker during Friday's memorial service downtown, and spoke prior to the 93rd Indianapolis 500 Sunday.

"To all the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, I'd just like to say 'thank you for your service,' and 'thank you for what you do,'" said McKinley.

He also said Americans should remember those serving overseas during the holiday weekend.

"On a day where we're going to watch the greatest car race in the world, They (servicemembers) won't have a chance to watch this race today unless on a TV in Bagram or maybe Baghdad and we got to keep them in our hearts and prayers," said the general.

Many of the pre-race festivities focus on those who serve in the military. Servicemembers held a giant flag in turn one, servicemembers who recently deployed overseas marched down pit road, a multi-service color guard brought in the U.S. flag, and wounded warriors were driven around the track in trucks.

"It's an honor to be able come out here and present the flags, especially on Memorial Day weekend to recognize all the Soldiers who have passed," said Indiana National Guard Sgt. Jeremiah Anderson, Mitchell, Ind. Anderson was part of the multi-service color guard.

This year Indiana National Guard Maj. Lisa Kopczynski, Camp Atterbury public affairs officer, sung the National Anthem. A new ceremony was also added this year, the twenty-one gun salute and the playing of "Taps." Soldiers with the Indiana National Guard performed those duties too.

Dan Wheldon, the driver of the National Guard sponsored car, spoke to Guard Soldiers before the race, and praised National Guard Soldiers for their strength and demeanor.

"The race team including myself have learned a lot from all of you, and your never say die attitude is something that we have really picked up on," said Wheldon. "I certainly appreciate that. I thrive off that. I know everybody in the race team thrives off that, and I think that's got us into a position to potentially win this race."

While Wheldon didn't win, he finished second and moved up from his eighteenth starting spot. In a post-race television interview he praised the pit crew for helping him move up those 16 spots with the crew’s "never-say-die" attitude.