For whom the bell tolls: Veterans honor their fallen comrades

Kirk Boxleitner kboxleitner@ptleader.com
Posted 10/24/17

The wind whipping through the rows of flags didn’t deter military veterans from standing tall outside the Jefferson County Courthouse on Oct. 21 as they rang a bell in honor of each veteran in the …

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For whom the bell tolls: Veterans honor their fallen comrades

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The wind whipping through the rows of flags didn’t deter military veterans from standing tall outside the Jefferson County Courthouse on Oct. 21 as they rang a bell in honor of each veteran in the county who has died in the past six months.

The ceremony included the reading of 32 names of fallen veterans and drew members of the American Legion Marvin G. Shields Post 26 in Port Townsend, the Patriot Guard Riders of Oak Harbor, the Clallam County Veterans Association and the Washington State National Guard, each of whom helped make it happen.

The event has been happening on the third Saturday of every April and October, for the past five years, ever since Steve Brunette witnessed a similar monthly ceremony taking place in Port Angeles.

“I asked if they could read a friend’s name, but they explained it was for Clallam County veterans,” Brunette said. “So I modeled this ceremony after theirs.”

Brunette scours obituaries and makes contact with families that have applied for veterans’ benefits, to ensure that the biannual ceremony’s list of names is complete.

“It’s nice when there can be a bit more awareness of the role of the military and its sacrifices,” said Brunette, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1970 to 1974. “There’s a stigma that’s often associated with the military, but we should support our veterans, because they help protect our rights.”

Dean Thiem of the Oak Harbor Patriot Guard Riders estimates that his riders can wind up attending as many as a dozen such ceremonies throughout the region in a given month.

“We’ve run six missions in the past two weeks, and we’ve already got four scheduled for next week,” said Thiem, a 20-year Navy veteran. “When it’s in response to people receiving the worst news, a ride can pop up on short notice, less than three days. Of course, events like this are planned months in advance. It’s telling that, even in this weather, so many people volunteer to come out and honor our veterans.”

Fellow 20-year Navy veteran Gary Velie, president of the Clallam County Veterans Association, is happy to help his neighbors in Jefferson County carry on their own version of a ceremony inspired by his county.

“We honor the passing of our veterans, at least in part, because this will likely be the last time that a lot of their names are spoken in public,” Velie said.

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