BONNERS FERRY — Thank you for your service.
Veterans Day in Bonners Ferry is a big event. This past Monday, Nov. 11, was no exception, and included a special award to a very involved and dedicated volunteer.
Every year on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour of that day, veterans, community members, politicians, friends, and family gather to thank veterans for their service and sacrifices.
Cooler temperatures did not deter a large crowd from assembling at the Boundary County Veterans Memorial Park.
“Thank you for your service,” was the phrase of the day, heard many times throughout the event.
The 100-foot flagpole was flying as usual amidst the 11 smaller flags flown in honor of the morning’s event.
Margaret Pyette began the talks.
“There’s not a whole lot of ways I can honor our veterans, but I do so thoroughly enjoy making the quilts every year that I can present to them for the service that they did for this great country,” said Pyette.
She has presented quilts to veterans for the past nine years, and plans to present quilts every year.
“The words on it say valor, courage, honor and bravery, a perfect description of our veterans,” said Pyette.
Two quilts were presented — one to Don Dozier and the other to Rosemary Hopkins. Dozier was not present. Hopkins, who served in the U.S. Navy as a Morse Code professional to the Atlantic Fleet, accepted her quilt in person during the day’s ceremony.
A 1995 Bonners Ferry High School graduate, now the Superintendent of Schools for Boundary County, Jan Bayer, was welcomed as speaker of ceremonies.
Bayer explained she has never served in the military, though has a long history of military family members who have served.
“You all are near and dear to my heart,” said Bayer.
“We live in the greatest nation in the world, we are the greatest country, thanks to the men and women that serve us every single day, to our current and former military personnel, thank you,” Bayer said.
“Freedom is not free, it’s time away from your loved ones, it’s hostile and dangerous territories, it’s horrendous weather elements that you endure, where we can go inside a warm house but you’re out there
And there’s oftentimes body and mental harm that you won’t talk about, but it’s there and many of our military personnel have paid that ultimate sacrifice,” said Bayer. “The veterans creed states, I am an American veteran, I proudly serve my country, I live by the values learned in the military, I continue to serve my community, my country and my fellow veterans. I maintain my physical and mental discipline, I continue to lead and improve, I make a difference, I remember my fallen comrades.”
Bayer recognized that many of our veterans serve daily and give back to the community as firefighters, police officers, volunteers, sponsor scholarships for students, and other services.
“We are forever grateful,” said Bayer.
The ceremony then shifted from a somber feel to that of a celebration when Karen Roetter, regional director for Senator Mike Crapo’s (R-Idaho) office, stepped up to the podium to present an award to a local veteran.
“Bonners Ferry never ceases to amaze me. Your turnout is bigger than a lot of the ones I go to in Coeur d’Alene or Hayden, and this community holds a special spot in my heart and in Senator Crapo’s as well,” Roetter said.
Roetter explained that the The Spirit of Freedom award, that was about to be bestowed, was not something that is often given. She said that the process for the award is through nomination and then the nominee goes through a screening process.
Senator Crapo’s, Spirit of Freedom Award has been in operation since 2002.
“This year’s winner is a gentleman who was in the U.S. Air Force,” Roetter said, “But if he told you what he did, uh, we might have to call in the CIA to eliminate you, so we won’t go there.”
Roetter read the nomination, “It is with great pleasure that the Idaho State Council of the Vietnam Veterans of America nominates Ron McIlnay for the prestigious Senator Crapo Spirit of Freedom award.”
“Ron McIlnay is a true patriot who is proud of his military service to the United States and is a veteran who sincerely enjoys serving veterans.” Roetter said, “Soon after moving to Bonners Ferry in 2012, Ron became active in local veterans organizations and made helping veterans receive the support and assistance they needed a priority.”
“After years of working with veterans organizations, news media and law enforcement agencies Ron has become a go to person in this area when assistance with a veteran or veterans family is identified. Ron has provided a wide range of assistance,” said Roetter.
The Spirit of Freedom: Idaho Veterans Service Award has identified and awarded 28 Idahoans for their significant contributions to the country and its veterans.
“Idaho is a better place because of Ron’s service to his community and to those in need,” said Roetter.
Ron McIlnay was invited to the podium to receive the award, which he graciously did.
McIlnay said, “The work I do can not be done without the American Legion, the VFW the DAV and the VVA, and we’re here and I am thankful that I am upright and still walking, but there are a lot of vets out there that need help.”
McIlnay urged the crowd that if they know someone who needs help to reach out to him.
“I can’t guarantee anything but we will certainly give it every effort that we can, so thank you very much” said McIlnay.
Census Reporter shows that there are approximately 680 veterans in Boundary County, with the majority of veterans from the Vietnam War at 381. This is about 1.3 times the rate in all of the state of Idaho.
One may be able to multiply these numbers to include family members of service members; children, spouses, parents, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, grandparents and friends to realize the possible total amount of lives that are changed as a result of service related deaths, events, prolonged deployments, stress, and the list goes on.
Bonners Ferry has had another successful Veterans Day of being reminded of the many ways our service members have sacrificed and given so much to keep the rest of us safe.
For more information on Senator Crapo’s Spirit of Freedom Award visit crapo.senate.gov. The Vietnam Veterans of America can be contacted at vva.org and Ron McIlnay at 206-817-9220.