Veterans, their families and supportive attendees gathered at Hill Auditorium at the University of Michigan Monday evening to listen to five veterans share stories about their time in active duty and life after service. The event, dubbed “Stories of Service,” was organized by Fisher House Foundation, a veteran nonprofit, and was sponsored by Michigan Medicine.
“Stories of Service” is a night to honor those who have served in the military and to call attention to the importance of supporting veterans and their families. The ceremony included storytelling from the five veterans and performances by Concordia University’s choir and wind ensemble.
Speakers at the ceremony represented multiple generations, including 96-year-old World War II veteran Guy Stern, a Jewish immigrant who fled Germany to escape the Nazi regime. Stern spoke about his time as a member of a special military intelligence unit in the U.S. Army. Edie Meeks, another speaker at the ceremony, served as an Army nurse in the Intensive Care Units at a field hospital in Saigon during the Vietnam War. Meeks referred to her patients as “her boys,” emphasizing the close connection she shared with the soldiers.
The event was organized in to help fundraise and spread awareness for the creation of Michigan’s first Fisher House. Fisher House Foundation is a nonprofit organization aiming to build large communal homes next to military and VA medical centers for families of current military personnel and veterans to stay in at no cost while their family members are in the hospital. There are nearly 80 Fisher Houses around the world, but there are currently none in Michigan.
Kate Melcher, co-host of the ceremony and former Apache helicopter pilot, said her own personal experiences with a Fisher House while her ex-husband was in surgery were what led her to fight for construction of more.
“It was my home from the moment that I crossed that threshold,” Melcher said. “We couldn’t do it for the generation that came back from Vietnam, but Fisher House Foundation has been doing this for the last quarter century and we’re going to continue it here in Michigan.”
Fisher House says it will open its first Michigan location in Ann Arbor in 2019, with a second opening shortly later in Detroit. The organization aims to raise $20 million for the construction and management of these houses.
Several of the speakers recounted their battles with post-traumatic stress disorder, mental health and loss. Army veteran Melissa Raulerson illustrated how being a member of the military community helped her cope with mental health issues upon discharge, saying organizations like Fisher House, which facilitate communal support among military families, were necessary for people like her.
“I went on to lead a small group of wives called Wives of Warriors,” Raulerson said. “We became a family. It was there that I learned the meaning of thriving and not just surviving.”
LSA junior Michael Koch said the event helped to increase awareness and support for Fisher Houses in Michigan by showing people what they were supporting.
“When you add a face and a story to a cause, it makes it a lot more personal,” Koch said.