Twenty veterans were inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame on Thursday for making major contributions to their communities after military service.
“When you go through life, you have a lot of different families,” said Merle J. Pratt. “You have your family, personal family and then you have your Navy family.”
Pratt spent four and a half years on active duty in the Navy during Vietnam and more than 20 years in the Reserves. The chief yeoman said some of his former shipmates came to see him be recognized on Thursday in Dublin.
“It’s an honor because I know a lot of the honorees from before and just to be with that great group of people is just great,” Pratt said.
In the years during and following his military service, Pratt has been an advocate for veterans, serving as the veterans liaison to seven different Ohio Attorneys General. He was also on the Veterans Hall of Fame selection committee himself for 10 years.
Of the 20 veterans honored and inducted into the Hall of Fame, two were honored posthumously, since they died this year.
Among the others, who ranged in age from their 30s to their 80s and are from all across Ohio, was E.J. Thomas, the president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity-MidOhio.
“That’s one of the things about Americans that is really pretty unique,” Thomas said. “We have generous hearts and we’re there to help others when they need it.”
Thomas, a former U.S. Air Force colonel, now runs the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate, which offers veterans help to pay for home repairs and financial assistance on a mortgage.
“For a veteran who qualifies and gets a house, we reduce the first mortgage by $1,000 for every year of service, up to 10 years,” Thomas said.
Both Pratt and Thomas said it was critical to involve younger people in the work they do in order to make sure veterans are taken care of in Ohio.
“Just keep giving, because veterans are important and need help and we’re there to help them,” Pratt said of what he hopes to do in the coming years. “My theme is if I can help one veteran and not hurt one, I’ll support anything.”
A plaque for the class of 2018 inductees will be enshrined at the Vern Riffe Center in downtown Columbus in May 2019.