Wreath hanging a Christmas tradition for Jasper vet


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JASPER — It stands on a gravel island, waist-high above the lines of graves at the Fairview Cemetery in Jasper. Seemingly ordinary but packed with significance, the headstone rests by an American flag and is dedicated to all veterans who have served the United States.

Every Christmas season since it was installed in 2006, Paul Striegel has seen to it that the monument has had a wreath fixed around its front.

Why does he do it?

“For the service that the veterans provided for this country to keep it free,” Striegel, who is a 90-year-old Brookside Village resident, said of why the wreath ritual is important. “If you look at some of these other countries and see their standard of living and the politics that they have, we’re very fortunate we still have a government of the people, and by the people, and for the people.”

It’s important to him that we never forget. The decorating tradition is deeply meaningful to the Jasper native and a chance for him to reflect on the sacrifices made by his fellow soldiers.

Striegel joined the U.S. Army in 1946 as a 16-year-old boy. He moved his birthday up 30 days on his enlistment paperwork, his mother signed the document and he was inducted.

Transportation issues presented a hurdle to a local high school education, so Striegel received one in the Army. He graduated from his basic training course at Fort Knox as a medium tank crewman and was sent to the west coast, where he boarded a ship for Yokohama, Japan.

“We were in a terrible storm for three days,” Striegel said of his journey overseas. “Nobody had an appetite, everybody was seasick. They couldn’t cook anything on the stoves. We ate cold cuts or apples as our main source of food.”

Back on land, Striegel attended an eight-week automotive course and was retained as instructional personnel. A year later, he shipped back to the states and was discharged.

He signed up for the inactive U.S. Army Reserve in 1949, and the same year, he helped launch Jasper’s 1st Battalion 151st Infantry. He transferred to that Jasper National Guard active unit soon after.

Striegel was in the Guard for 12 years before transferring to the Military Police detachment unit based in Jasper, working in a prisoner of war information center back in the active Army Reserve in Jasper, as a captain. He finished his military career in 1969.

“No. 1, I was taught discipline,” he reflected on his time in service. “And then leadership and responsibility. I’m thankful for the time I spent in the military.”

By the end, he’d given 23 years of his life to various service groups, and he felt that he’d done his duty. As a civilian, Striegel worked for American Natural Resources, the Celestine arm of a Detroit-headquartered natural gas pipeline company. He also joined VFW Post 147 and American Legion Post 673, and played a pivotal role in their honor guards.

As a member of those outfits, Striegel participated in about 300 military funerals over a 20-year period — most of which were for people from Dubois County. Some were from other surrounding counties, like Pike and Orange.

He found inspiration in a memorial placed at the St. Paul Cemetery in Haysville. Striegel thought Jasper needed one in Fairview. He raised the money, bought the engraved headstone from Schum Monuments of Dale for $300 and brought it to life.

“My thoughts really are, those veterans that have passed on and defended this country, you are not forgotten,” Striegel said of what would play through his head when he hung the wreath. The past two years, Striegel’s daughter, Gayle Hochgesang, has hung it for her father because he can no longer move without a walker.

Now, Striegel would like to see the city install a similar monument at the Parklands of Jasper.

“I’d like to see a veterans memorial there,” Striegel said. “Somewhere on the trail. Nothing elaborate, but something to signify that the people that served in the military deserve some of the credit for that place.”

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