The bronze man always kneels in Kalispell’s Depot Park.
He’s there in the cold of winter, when his metal is covered in ice and snow. He’s there in the summer, when the whole monument is hot to the touch.
And he’s there every Nov. 11, when others like him, those who have perhaps kneeled similarly in front of a battlefield cross, made of a deceased soldier’s boots, helmet, and firearm, take time to remember.
The bronze man’s continued solidarity for his fallen brethren, his interminable respect and love for them written across his sculpted face, are the reason a group of more than 100 people gathered here on Veterans Day.
It’s a day to remember and respect the ultimate sacrifices American soldiers have made since the beginning of this country, to remember them the way the bronze man does every day.
The ceremony was foggy and cold, but that didn’t stop a healthy crowd from gathering to listen, to honor, to sing, and to be quiet together. Patriotic music played before the flag raising and presentation of the colors at 11 a.m., performed by the local branch of the Montana Civil Air Patrol.
Chaplain Bob Stephens prayed for all those who have served the nation, those who didn’t survive their service and those still in service. Those who have painful nightmares, those who are still in danger’s path, may they be shielded, Stephens prayed. He prayed for national leadership, and for the meekest of the populace.
“Spare the poor, Lord. Spare the poor,” Stephens prayed.
After an introduction from Tim Carter, chair of the Flathead Valley Veterans Memorial, retired Command Master Chief Jay Trepanier spoke about his memories of the U.S. Navy in Vietnam, and how it shaped him as a man.
Trepanier reflected on the volunteer-based nature of the military, after the draft ended in 1973. He noted few politicians are veterans anymore, including the Commander in Chief of the United States.
His experience in Vietnam, seeing the poverty and the poor living conditions for children, made him grow up, Trepanier said.
“The children stick in my mind,” he said. “My life slowly began to change after that.”
Seeing the reality of life there made him want to work harder, to achieve his personal best, because he had that chance – he was born in America.
“When I went home on leave, it really hit me how lucky I was,” Trepanier told the crowd.
Watching the young members of the Civil Air Patrol present the colors gave him hope for the future, he said.
“May God bless America, even if we don’t always deserve it,” Trepanier said, before singing the national anthem.
A three-volley salute followed, the air cracking as the sound shot over the quiet crowd. In the silence following the shots, two trumpeters began to play “Taps.”
As the ceremony ended, veterans gathered to chat, to catch up, to remember. And as they walked away in the cold November air, invited to a luncheon at the Elks Club, the bronze man stayed kneeling, ever there, ever watchful.
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