Red, white and blue flanked U.S. 95 at the north end of Ponderay as crowds turned out Friday morning to honor fallen soldier Spc. Ethan Martin of Bonners Ferry.
The response followed a community-driven initiative encouraging Bonner and Boundary county residents to show support for the family and gratitude for his military service. A small group gathered outside Big R at 9:45 a.m. quickly ballooned to more than 100 individuals bearing flags and somber moods.
The morning was an emotional one for many, even those who had no personal connection to Martin or his family.
“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” said Alexa Matier, whose husband served in Iraq. She was one of the first in attendance, driven by a sense of solidarity with another military family.
Others knew Martin’s family and wanted to make sure there were some familiar faces on the roadside.
“We knew the family and Ethan since he was very young,” Norma Laude said. “He was such a nice young man.”
No matter who the attendees were and what their relationship was to Martin, however, everyone appreciated his sacrifice for his country and community.
“Between the two counties, there are 60,000 people here, and one of them gave his life.”Tom Suttmeier said. “We’re here to honor that.”
The gathering attracted a vast range of individuals to the front of Big R. People took time out of their work schedules to be in attendance, and employees of nearby businesses joined the group, gradually expanding it to its full size by the time the funeral procession arrived. All age groups were represented, from babies to children to teenagers like Chris and Brandon Chalmers.
“This was a solider fighting for us,” Chris Chalmers said. “The least we can do is be here to honor him. Like the Bible says, greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
When funeral procession reached Big R just after 11 a.m., police officers shut down the intersection and made room for the waves of motorcycles and vehicles. As they passed, onlookers lowered the tips of their flags in a traditional gesture of respect. Many passengers in the procession were visibly moved by the display.
Once the procession continued onto Bonners Ferry, even more North Idaho residents were present to pay their respects. They maintained a steady line of supporters all the way to the funeral home, according to witnesses at the scene.
“It’s surprising how many people actually are here for it,” Christina Hible said. “I didn’t know (Martin) personally, but I did know of him, and it makes me sad. It almost makes me want to cry my eyes out.”