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Missouri State Fair hosts Homegrown Heroes Day

Sunday, August 15, 2010 | 8:17 p.m. CDT
Shielded from the sun, Santiago Calle, 5, of Columbia slept on his father's shoulders during a Military Appreciation Ceremony, which was part of the Missouri State Fair's Homegrown Heroes Day on Sunday. Pfc. Juan Calle, originally of Colombia, South America, joined the National Guard earlier this year.

SEDALIA — A little boy slept on his daddy's shoulders, visible over the crowd.

Gov. Jay Nixon was speaking at the Military Appreciation Ceremony to a crowd of state fair visitors, including veterans with their families and uniformed men and women from Ft. Leonard Wood.

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The boy's father, Juan Calle, came as a civilian, but will soon be among military ranks. He begins basic training for the Army National Guard on Oct. 16.

Calle and his family, Columbia residents, were among the many who attended the Missouri State Fair on Homegrown Heroes Day, a new tradition at the fair that gives free admission to active military members and veterans and $1 admission to their families..

At the event Sunday, Calle spoke with a Missourian reporter about his decision to join the military.

With training approaching, Calle said he spends every Sunday with his family. "If I'm at home watching a movie, it doesn't matter — I'm with them," he said.

Originally from Colombia, South America, Calle moved to Columbia 10 years ago. He owns Juan Felipe Calle Landscaping and works four other jobs — two at horse farms, one as a meat cutter and another as an interpreter.

He decided to join the military in April. "I always wanted to be there but never had the guts to do it," Calle said.

He said he realized that if he never tried, he would always wonder what it would have been like. At 39, he will be among the oldest of the new recruits. He hopes to be in the military until retirement.

At 5, Calle's son Santiago is too young to understand, but joins his sister in saluting, Calle said.

"I don't know why, but they jump" when they salute, Calle said, who then imitated the jumping salute.

He said his wife, Sandra Zapata, had a mixed reaction to his decision at first, but she now supports her husband's choice.

His daughter Daniela, 8, hated the idea of her father joining the National Guardat first.

"Her first thoughts were, 'Daddy's gonna go to war and get killed,'" Calle said.

He said he had to explain that he is joining to defend her freedom. Now, Calle said she proudly tells people that her daddy is in the army.

The state fair continues until Sunday, Aug. 22.


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