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On square and elsewhere, Jackson celebrates veterans

Community finds many ways to recognize those who defend America.

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On square and elsewhere, Jackson celebrates veterans

Flags flapped from dozens of hands on Monday morning on the Town Square, when about 100 veterans and their families and friends gathered in sub-freezing temperatures to honor the nation’s armed forces.

Many appeared in uniform or bearing some other emblem of service. They formed a semicircle around a podium in the grass, from which Ed Liebzeit, a Vietnam veteran, commemorated the day. He commended recent successes in combat, and praised the military as neutral and non-partisan, dedicated to defending all U.S. citizens.

“We don’t care who you voted for, we don’t care where you worship, and if you’re rich or poor, doesn’t matter,” Liebzeit said. “We have a focus, and that focus is caring for, supporting and protecting all Americans in the United States of America.”

To the long-time Jackson Hole residents, he pointed out, “you may wonder what’s behind you.” Heads turned to look at the fenced-off site of what used to be the Town Square monument, a stone pillar adorned with plaques that listed the valley’s veterans dating back to World War I.

American Legion Post 43 is constructing a new one, in the form of an eight-paneled work of black granite engraved with the names of veterans from every major conflict of the 20th century. They initially hoped to unveil it on Monday, but delays pushed back the completion date. For now, only a concrete foundation and pillars mark the spot.

Mayor Pete Muldoon, himself a veteran, also gave a prepared statement, declaring that residents of Jackson Hole and the country at large should look to veterans as the “ultimate example of leadership, patriotism and sacrifice.”

“The future of our community, our families, our children and our great nation depends on the dedication and patriotism of all people who have served in our armed forces,” he said.

Off to one side of the square, Dee Buckstaff and Patty Robertson watched over a procession of young children from the Montessori School of the Tetons. Each year, Robertson said, they talk about Veterans Day with their students before observing the holiday.

“Not too in-depth, but at a 3- and 4-year-old understanding,” she said. Pupils beside her twirled their tiny flags. “Got to start them young.”

The ceremony ended with the usual military formalities. Three rounds each from seven rifles rang out over the Town Square in a 21-gun salute, and a single bugler played Taps in drawn-out, mournful notes. But before that, Liebzeit made a final reflection on the role of America’s soldiers.

“We have the freedom, we have our way of life, we have the privileges we enjoy today because of our veterans,” he said. “Let us never forget.”

— Cody Cottier

Daughters host women vets for suffragist tea

Female vets shared stories of service with Daughters of the American Revolution.

Daughters of the American Revolution Veterans Day tea

Michelle Weber speaks during a Suffragist Tea event honoring women military veterans at American Legion Post 43.

Joy Lamb had to ask her parents for permission to join the U.S. Army.

She was just shy of 18, underweight by military standards and had been told by a recruiter that the Army will “eat you up and spit you out.”

“I heard that a lot,” she said.

She was undeterred. She knew she wanted to travel and she knew the military was a way to earn money for college.

Her parents signed the paperwork, and in 1989 she was shipped to Fort Dix in New Jersey, where she completed basic training and advanced individualized training. She later served in Germany — she turned 19, 20 and 21 in the country — as a cook at an aviation post.

As one of only a few females, she described her time in the military as “tough.”

“For every female there was 38 males,” she said. “Guarantee you’d open your mouth ... and someone would totally take it in a different way.”

But it was an experience that opened her eyes to different cultures and different countries, and one she was happy to share with the Davey Jackson Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

“It’s been forever since I took off the uniform, and tonight it’s really, really nice to get recognized because there are so many males and so few females,” she said. “We probably put up with a bit more than what the guys do because you’re always having to prove yourself. ... and we’re still here.”

Daughters of the American Revolution Veterans Day tea

Author and historian Dan Lyon speaks with Elizabeth Kingwill about his book, “Girl Guards of Wyoming: The Forgotten Women’s Militia.”

The chapter held a Veterans Day celebration — a suffragist tea — Friday at American Legion Post 43.

“For Veterans Day I wanted to do something to recognize women who serve,” said Natalia D. Macker, a member of the Davey Jackson chapter, “and the unique experiences they may have experienced.”

In addition to author Dan Lyon, who spoke about his book, “The Girl Guards of Wyoming,” three veterans spoke at the event: Lamb, who was enlisted for three years; Michelle Weber, who was enlisted for 22; and Lauren Gurney, who has been enlisted for the past 14 years.

Like Lamb, Weber and Gurney needed their parents to sign them into duty. Also like Lamb, Weber and Gurney shared their experience as women in the military.

Weber, who enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve between her junior and senior years of high school, recalled being told she’d never land the role of general’s aide.

She went on to serve in that role under two generals.

She also served as an engineer officer — “There were probably six or seven females in my company at any one given time out of 175” — and said her service “defines who I am today.” Weber retired in 2009.

Gurney always felt a “calling to save lives,” which she thought would mean medicine.

“But the path is not quite linear from what you’re going to do when you’re 17 and what you’re going to do at 32,” she said.

After enlisting in the Army at 17, she realized that calling was for a service in the sky.

“Honestly, I’ve worked my butt off to be where I am today,” Gurney said. “I am kind of proud to stand before you as a test pilot, a medevac pilot, and tell you that I’m one of the top aviators in the state and the only female to be doing the job.”

Daughters of the American Revolution Veterans Day tea

Lauren Gurney listens as Michelle Weber speaks about her time in the military Friday during a Daughters of the American Revolution Suffragist Tea at American Legion Post 43. Gurney served in Iraq and is the only female Army medevac pilot in the state of Wyoming. She was one of three women veterans invited to speak at the event.

But while she’s proud of her service, she’s also proud to be a conduit for inspiring others to follow their dreams.

“For the first time, this year — and I think for the first time in Teton County — I flew a Blackhawk into the high school,” where she spoke to middle and high schoolers about serving in the military.

“I want our county, our kids, our youth, to feel like they have a woman who is going to stand beside them,” she said.

And for the girls considering service, she offered the following:

“You can serve our country,” she said, “probably better than most men.”

— Melissa Cassutt

Vets illuminate a life of service for students

DiPrisco tells story of selfless Marines in relief mission to Nepal earthquake victims.

Honoring veterans

Mike DiPrisco, a major in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, talks to Jackson Hole High School students Thursday about his military service during an all-school assembly honoring veterans. DiPrisco, a 2001 Jackson Hole High School graduate, spoke about his mission to Nepal as part of an international effort to aid the Nepalese people after a 2015 earthquake that measured 7.8 on the Richter scale.

Service before self.

Those words are one-third of the U.S. Air Force vision, along with the phrases “integrity first” and “excellence in all we do.” It takes a certain selflessness to commit to a stint (or lifetime) of service in the armed forces, but, as Maj. Mike DiPrisco, a former Jackson Hole High School student, told the audience in the school auditorium Thursday, a true understanding of service is not innate to every soldier upon enlistment.

“It really wasn’t until the waning years of my time on active duty,” he said, “that I had this service, this concept of service, really brought home.”

DiPrisco was one of dozens of veterans and active-duty personnel invited to the high school for a lunch that gave students the chance to mingle with them. From the Korean War to the ongoing campaign in Afghanistan, veterans of the past 70 years told stories over prime rib and mashed potatoes before being ushered into the auditorium.

Along with DiPrisco, Col. Will Smith, a physician in the Army Reserve, and retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Joe Rice spoke, giving the students a glimpse into life in the military. Joe Burke, a former U.S. Coast Guard hospital corpsman who is post commander at American Legion Post 43, also gave brief remarks.

Honoring veterans

Dr. Will Smith talks about his service during an all-school assembly honoring veterans. Smith joined the U.S. Army in September 2001 and served two tours in Iraq as well as other missions around the world.

DiPrisco, now an Air Force Reserve member, talked about being part of the response to the 2015 earthquake that struck Nepal, a temblor that registered 7.8 on the Richter scale and killed nearly 9,000 people. U.S. armed forces often assist in international aid missions, and DiPrisco, a pilot, was pulled from a mission flying trips between the Philippines and Japan.

The plane he was flying, the Boeing C-17, is a military transport plane capable of carrying huge loads. He picked up a crew of Marines and their helicopter and took them to Kathmandu so they could deliver aid in remote villages stranded by massive landslides.

However, he said, those Marines weren’t simply waiting around for a mission. They had been part of military exercises with the Filipino military, then before they could “even repack their bags” they received orders to board DiPrisco’s plane and head to Nepal.

The flight crew, which included DiPrisco, knew that it was simply dropping the Marines off and flying back. But the Marines had no such timeline, and without knowing how long they would be in Nepal, on little rest, they set out on their relief mission without “a peep of complaint.”

“I was truly humbled by how committed they were to service,” DiPrisco said, “and how motived and actually proud they were as well.”

— Tom Hallberg

Elks Lodge dinner serves those who served

‘It’s nice to know people still recognize it,’ veteran Chuck Samples said.

Veterans Day dinner

Donnie Rodgers, chairman of the Elks veterans committee, and Troop 268 Assistant Scoutmaster Elvis Olais serve roast beef, potatoes and coleslaw to military veterans Friday at the Elks Lodge No. 1713. The free Veterans Day dinner is an annual tradition for the Elks.

Boy Scouts from Jackson’s Troop 268 helped serve roast beef, potatoes and coleslaw Friday evening for the Elks Lodge’s annual Veterans Day dinner.

“It’s just a way to honor veterans and do good in our community,” Dune Mecartney, 12, said. “Because they risk their lives for our country, for our freedom.”

The dinner is an annual tradition for Elks Lodge No. 1713, which has a long history of service — particularly to veterans.

“November is Veterans Month, so we always do a dinner for the veterans, a free meal,” Exalted Ruler Pete Kendzior said. “It’s second nature for us to give back.”

Chuck Samples, who’s been a member of the Elks for 29 years, said he comes to the dinner every year. Originally from Iowa, Samples served during the Vietnam War from 1967 to 1971.

“I got lucky,” he said. “I became a Russian interpreter. ... I didn’t fight, didn’t kill anybody, but I gave up four years of my life to serve my country.”

Serving, he said, requires a lot of those enlisted. And when he returned home he found it was a different time.

“When I got out, my friends that hadn’t gone to the service had been working for four years, gotten married, some of them had kids.” he said. “I basically started over where they had started out right after high school.”

That sacrifice — and that he served in the Vietnam War, whose veterans weren’t celebrated — is partly what makes it special to be honored.

Veterans Day dinner

Dick Shuptrine, right, chats with Jim Clouse during the dinner.

“Back then, being in the service was not something that was considered honorable,” Samples said. “It’s nice to know that people still recognize it.”

The dinner at the Elks was also an opportunity for Samples to reflect on the service of his ancestors.

He traces his family’s military lineage through World War II, World War I, the Spanish-American War, the Civil War (Union side), the War of 1812 ... all the way back to the Revolutionary War (the British side).

“I think about my father and my grandfather on Veterans Day,” he said. “It reminds me of what my family believed in.”

This year, for the first time, the Elks Lodge is joining with American Legion Post 43 to put together 700 Christmas boxes to send to Wyoming troops in Afghanistan. Tips from Friday’s dinner went toward that cause, said Donnie Rodgers, chairman of the Elks veterans committee.

“Every soldier from Wyoming gets one,” Rodgers said. “There’ll be Christmas cards in it from Jackson, Green River, Rock Springs, Cheyenne.”

Jack Vosika, another veteran member of the Elks, said Jackson Hole’s veterans are a tight-knit group, and the Elks have always supported the community’s vets.

“They’ve always stood behind us,” he said.

— Allie Gross

Contact Cody Cottier at 732-5911 or town@jhnewsandguide.com. Contact Melissa Cassutt at 732-7076 or valley@jhnewsandguide.com. Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com. Contact Allie Gross at 732-7063 or county@jhnewsandguide.com.

Cody Cottier covers town and state government. He grew up with a view of the Olympic Mountains, and after graduating Washington State University he traded it for a view of the Tetons. Odds are the mountains are where you’ll find him when not on deadline.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

Allie Gross covers Teton County government. Originally from the Chicago area, she joined the News&Guide in 2017 after studying politics and Spanish at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

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