This year, 28 Idahoans are honored for serving our nation and military veterans through The Spirit of Freedom: Idaho Veterans Service Award. The following biographies for each of the recipients highlight their significant contributions to our country and its veterans.
- Phillip Catorena, Pocatello: The Idaho State Veterans Home—Pocatello nominated Phillip Catorena for his service to our nation. Phillip moved to Idaho as a young adult to live with his sister in Wilder. He joined the U.S. Army in 1962, and his service included serving in the Dominican Republic and Germany with the 82nd Airborne Division, and then as Airborne Infantry in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division. Phillip received many honors for his service including Expert Rifle (M16), Marksman (M14, M1), Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (Dominical Republic) and more. Following his service, he returned to Aberdeen to be near family, including his Mother. Phillip enjoys spending time with his three sons, Michael, Patrick and Matthew. Carrie Leavitt, with the Idaho State Veterans Home—Pocatello, wrote, “His determination and strong will to overcome stumbling blocks are inspiring.” She shared that, “he has a positive outlook on life, a great sense of humor, and a smile that is infectious.”
- John R. Crotinger, Grangeville: The Crea-D’Haven Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 3520 of Grangeville nominated John R. Crotinger. John received many honors for his service in the U.S. Army, which included serving in South Korea and Vietnam in the 1960s, and he continues to support his fellow veterans. John’s civilian career included working in the engineering field, specializing in highway and road construction and private engineering. John serves extensively in the leadership of local veterans organizations. VFW Post 3520 Commander Clinton Miller commended John’s selfless support of veterans and wrote, “He is a cornerstone for successful operations at the local level having served as Post Commander in the past and managing all Post administration for the past 12 years as Post Quartermaster/Adjutant.”
- Gary Forsey, Sr., Lewiston: The Idaho State Veterans Home—Lewiston nominated Gary Forsey, who served in the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army for a total of 21 years. Gary enlisted in the Air Force at the age of 19 and served nine years. Then, he immediately enlisted in the U.S. Army, and achieved the rank of Chief Warrant Officer. While stationed in Germany, Gary met and married his wife, Marie, who also served in the Army. Gary earned two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart and several other commendations for his honorable service. Gary’s civilian career was in teaching, in Secondary and Adult Education, following his military retirement in 1974. Gary is the father of four sons: Gary, Jr.; Philip; Robert; and William, who passed in 2006.
- Gerald Haines, Fruitland: The Veterans Advocates of Ore-Ida nominated veteran Gerald (Jerry) Haines, who serves on the board of directors and as chaplain for the organization. Jerry served nearly 25 years in the Army National Guard and retired as a Major. His civilian career included leadership in building a Christian School where he taught, and his 14 years of work for the U.S. Postal Service. He and his wife of 59 years, Trudy, have three children, 12 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. Jerry has volunteered extensively with his church, local senior centers, the local community and veteran advocacy groups. Examples of his service include honoring fellow veterans at the Heart ‘n Home Hospice, assisting blind and elderly individuals, and providing counseling and various assistance to prison inmates and their families.
- Phillip Hartman, Pocatello: The Veteran Student Services Center at Idaho State University nominated Phillip Hartman, who served in the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps during the 1980s and 1990s. Phillip was born in Sugar City, Idaho. He served in Desert Storm and Desert Shield, and he earned numerous recognitions for his honorable service. These include the National Defense Service Medal and Kuwait Liberation Medal—Saudi Arabia. Phillip has been married to another 2019 Spirit of Freedom awardee, Melissa Hartman, for 20 years. Together, they have a blended family with seven grown children and seven grandchildren with the eighth to arrive in May. Phillip’s civilian career has involved his work as a diesel mechanic. Phillip organizes the local Toys for Tots program and serves in the Marine Corps League. He also volunteers for Veterans Treatment Court and the Field of Heroes.
- Dr. Grace C. Jacobson, Pocatello: The Disabled American Veterans Department of Idaho nominated Dr. Grace Jacobson, who joined the U.S. Army Nurse Corps for the first time during college in the 1950s, and has contributed remarkably to the health care field and to serving fellow veterans. Dr. Jacobson’s 16 years in military service includes serving in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Her husband, Jon Jacobson, served in the U.S. Army for 29 years, including three tours in Vietnam. Grace and Jon, who passed away in 2008, have two sons, Erik and Karl, and one daughter, Jona. Dr. Jacobson has earned numerous military and civilian honors for her service to our nation and her contributions to nursing. These include the Meritorious Service Medal, Army Achievement Awards, and the Idaho Nurses Association awarded her for 58 years of dedication to nursing. Grace works with several veterans groups, including her service as Commander of the Disabled American Veterans, Chapter #3.
- Ralph G. Kramer, Boise: The Idaho State Veterans Home—Boise nominated Ralph G. Kramer, who served in the U.S. Air Force for more than 20 years. His military and later civilian careers were in communications. Ralph’s active duty took him from Turkey to Iceland, and from Iowa to Idaho. Following his military retirement, he thankfully made Idaho home. He has raised 10 children and has 14 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. When making the nomination, JoAnn Daron wrote, “Ralph’s time, dedication, and commitment to the families and the fallen is unparalleled, and his heart never strays from the mission at hand.” Ralph’s active role serving fellow veterans includes his more than six years of service as Boise Valley POW*MIA Executive Director.
- Harvey Cordell McCoy, Buhl: The 2019 Spirit of Freedom Award was bestowed posthumously to Harvey Cordell McCoy, a Vietnam Veteran from Buhl. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 3604 nominated Harvey, whose obituary reads, “Harvey touched many people’s hearts. He was a great friend, and a proud Veteran, always lending his support and assistance to his fellow Veterans.” My staff and I saw Harvey’s commitment to the veteran community firsthand particularly with those struggling with the claims process through the VA, his exhaustive efforts in support of his comrades who had fallen ill and his work to ensure veterans were properly honored for their service. Harvey served in the U.S. Army in the military police in Vietnam. He then went on to study hotel management and gaming and worked in many hotels in Las Vegas, Nevada, eventually employed as shift boss. After more than 30 years in the gaming industry, Harvey’s appreciation for small town life and a passion for the outdoors brought him to Buhl. Harvey had two daughters, Claudette and Angelina, and two granddaughters, Jinese and Alexandria.
- Ronald McIlnay, Bonners Ferry: The Vietnam Veterans of America, Idaho State Council nominated Ron McIlnay noting his years of helping his fellow veterans. Ron, who served in the U.S. Air Force and Reserves during the Vietnam War, is considered a “go to” person for assisting veterans and veterans’ families in his area. The Council cited many examples of Ron providing assistance, sometimes at his own expense and sometimes in coordination with veterans’ organizations and businesses. Ron also serves in leadership and other roles in area veterans’ organizations. Ron’s post-military career included work as an engineer in the aircraft industry, in the medical device industry and as an independent electronics/manufacturing consultant. Robert C. Seal, of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Idaho State Council, wrote, “Idaho is a better place because of Ron’s service to his community and to those in need.”
- Daniel Muguira, Meridian: The Department of Idaho Military Order of the Purple Heart and Chief Joseph Chapter 509 nominated Daniel Muguira, a Boise native who served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years and continues to serve his fellow veterans and their families. For example, Daniel partnered with another awardee, Daniel Nelson, to host events, including the inaugural Aaron Butler Memorial Purple Heart Run, to benefit the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. After graduating from Centennial High School in 2001, Daniel Muguira enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was trained in diesel mechanics, and later became a machine gunner and served a deployment in Iraq. Daniel is also the receipent of a Purple Heart. Following his military service, Dan earned a degree in General Business Management at Boise State University and currently works for the Boise Police Department.
- Dan Oliver Nelson and Kacey Nelson, Eagle: The Department of Idaho Military Order of the Purple Heart and Chief Joseph Chapter 509 nominated the extraordinary husband-wife team of U.S. Army Major medically retired, Dan Oliver Nelson and his wife, Kacey Nelson. Dan Nelson is a former U.S. Army Special Forces Officer (Green Beret) who deployed multiple times to Iraq, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, The Levant and North Africa. He received a Purple Heart for injuries received in Afghanistan. Dan is the recipient of multiple recognitions for his exceptional service that include the Silver Star and two Bronze Stars. The narrative that accompanied Dan’s Silver Star Award is a moving account of Dan’s sacrifice of his personal safety and well-being for his American teammates and partner forces. Dan and Kacey have two sons.
In addition to being a mother and wife, Kacey is a mechanical engineer for HP Inc. Kacey has been recognized for her exceptional care of Dan and his team members when they were wounded in action, and for her advocacy for those wounded or killed in combat and their families. Ned Barker, Commander of the State of Idaho Department for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, wrote, “Kacey Nelson is the embodiment of quiet and meaningful patriotism and social action.” Dan and Kacey partnered with another awardee, Dan Muguira, on the inaugural Aaron Butler Memorial Purple Heart Run.
- Larry Payne, Pocatello: When nominating Larry Payne, Carrie Leavitt, with the Idaho State Veterans Home—Pocatello, shared, “He has a heart of an American Veteran, always serving others and his country.” Larry, a Pocatello native, was drafted into the U.S. Army after high school and served our nation in two tours in Vietnam and the Army National Guard in California. Larry earned a number of recognitions for his honorable service, including the Bronze Star Medal. After his service, Larry returned to live in California to assist his mother, and he worked for the California Vision Service. Larry is considered by his loved ones to be a great big brother and the favorite uncle of his two nieces, Cassidy and Carson. Larry, who enjoyed playing football and baseball during his high school years, spent time teaching his nieces how to catch and throw a baseball. Larry is also very close to his Aunt Norma, and is always available to give her a helping hand.
- Matthew J. Wrobel, Meridian: American Legion District 3 nominated Matthew J. Wrobel, who served in the Army National Guard. Mathew Wrobel trained as a tank crewman. When making the nomination, American Legion District 3 Commander Richard L. Dees wrote about Matthew helping “all veterans in his community with their problems big and small.” Matthew, who has two children, Ivy and Varonica, has served in leadership positions at all levels of the American Legion, including post, district, state and national service roles. Commander Dees highlighted Matthew’s national leadership in honoring veterans through promoting the proper disposal of retired American flags. Matthew also had a bell cast from the brass grommets of disposed American flags to honor the Department of Idaho during its 100th convention.
- James A. Wuehler, Kuna: Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 7019 Commander Matthew Biggs nominated James Wuehler writing, “It cannot be stressed enough the impact that Jim has on his community and veteran organizations.” An active member of the Idaho City VFW Post, Jim has led multiple efforts in support of area veterans and their families. Jim, a native of Payette, joined the Army National Guard and transferred to the Idaho Air Guard before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force in 1958, serving as a guided missile technician. Jim is a Korean War Veteran who served overseas and on various bases in the U.S. throughout his service, which concluded in 1966. He then worked for the State of Oregon in the Revenue Department for 29 years before his retirement. Jim then returned to Idaho, and he has been active in important community efforts, including serving on volunteer fire and ambulance crews and assisting at-risk juveniles. Jim and his wife of 55 years, Dee, have a son, Andy.
- Lloyd Young, Jerome: The Veterans of Foreign Wars of Jerome nominated Lloyd Young, who served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and earned a number of honors for his service, for his embodiment of the Spirit of Freedom. Eric Bolich with the VFW commended Lloyd, who serves as the post’s service officer, for his consistent work to better the community through his acts of kindness and selfless service. Lloyd is described as a devoted family man whose compassion extends to the community where he works tirelessly to help veterans in need and educate young people on the importance of patriotism, Americanism and civic pride. Lloyd’s post-military work included a 28-year career with the U.S. Postal Service. He is also active in other local veterans’ organizations. Eric Bolich shared, “He often goes above and beyond to ensure veterans who are reluctant to ask for help are taken care of, taking time to deliver food and necessities to those experiencing need.”
- Tammy Burst, Eagle: The Idaho State Veterans Cemetery nominated Tammy Burst, who hasused her experience working with the funeral and cemetery industries to provide commendable volunteer assistance at the cemetery. Tammy’s father’s military service inspired her to serve veterans and their families. James A. Earp, State Veterans Cemetery Bureau Chief, wrote, “She exercises thoughtful compassion and care for the families who attend committal services, patriotic events, and those visiting a loved one’s burial site. As a part of our volunteer team she brings a sense of calm and comfort to the families struggling with the loss of their loved ones.” Tammy, who was born and raised in California, spent 35 years in the floral industry before selling her flower shop in 2015 and retiring to Boise to look after her mother.
- Bruce and Joy Finch, Lewiston: The Lewis Clark Valley Veterans Council nominated Bruce and Joy Finch, who are recognized for their unwavering support of veterans in the community. Their nominators explained that Bruce felt that veterans were under-recognized and decided to do something about it with the resources they had. The family established monthly “Vets Eat Free” meals as a gift of recognition to area veterans and have served more than 100,000 meals to honor veterans in their eight restaurants. When making the nomination, the Council also noted Bruce and Joy Finch’s active engagement in making sure area veterans hear about the meals and their honoring veterans in many other ways. Members of the Council shared that Bruce and Joy have instilled a spirt of commitment to veterans in their son and wrote, “Bruce and Joy Finch’s volunteerism will live beyond them in the hearts of veterans who have and will benefit from their patriotism and in the consciousness of our community members who see them leading through action and commitment to do what they can with what they have for Veterans!”
- Lucky Gallego, Grangeville: The Crea-D’Haven Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 3520 of Grangeville nominated Lucky Gallego, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 22 years and is recognized for selflessly serving the veterans community in Idaho County. VFW Post 3520 Commander Clinton Miller wrote that if Lucky is not on-site at the Idaho County Veterans Outreach and Community Center in Grangeville, he is probably visiting veterans at their home, at the county courthouse or supporting one of the area American Legion posts, where he has been commander for more than two years. Lucky’s training in Mental Health First Aid and experience as a veteran enable him to provide counsel to other veterans working through post-traumatic stress issues. After retiring from the military, Lucky worked 15 years as a locomotive technician.
- Melissa Hartman, Pocatello: Disabled American Veterans Chapter 3 Commander Dr. Grace C. Jacobson nominated Melissa Hartman. Melissa is recognized for putting her heart and soul into serving veterans and the military community through her work as a County Veterans Service Officer and as a volunteer. She shared that learning about history from the men and women who made it is the most rewarding part of her efforts on behalf of veterans. Melissa has assisted with numerous projects, including the Idaho Field of Heroes Memorial, Military and Veteran Appreciation Day, Veterans Treatment Court and more. Melissa is a mother, grandmother and the wife of another awardee, Phillip Hartman.
- Mary G. Krempasky, Lewiston: The Idaho State Veterans Home-Lewiston nominated Mary G. Krempasky, who has been helping at the home for several years. Her assistance includes helping with activities and sewing blankets for residents. Mary comes from a military family, and her career has supported military efforts. After her high school graduation, Mary went to work for the U.S. Air Force at Andrews Air Force Base as a flight records clerk. She later went on to a career as a program analyst working for the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition Program Integration. She retired in 1999 after nearly 30 years in federal service. Her retirement was short lived though, as she went back to work in 2001 as an Adjunct for the Institute of Defense Analysis where she worked for more than a decade before retiring again in 2012. Mary and her husband of 52 years, Joe, thankfully chose to make Lewiston their home. They have one daughter, Karen.
- Carrie Leavitt, Pocatello: The Idaho State Veterans Home—Pocatello nominated Carrie Leavitt, noting she coordinates more than 24,000 volunteer hours for the home every year and has served veterans for more than 10 years. When making the nomination, Josiah Dahlstrom wrote, “Her love is felt by all those she serves, especially here at the Veterans Home.” Carrie’s daughters and son conveyed their thoughts about her. Her son, Wade, shared, “She continues to look out for the one in need, by learning their stories of service, bravery and honor.” Carrie’s daughter, Heidi, expressed, “My mother’s goal every day is to shine a little more light and bring love and hope into our sweet, deserving heroes’ lives and all those around her.” Her daughter, Dawn, wrote, “My mom’s arms are always stretched out to hug, lift, and reach for someone in need.”
- Beverly McLendon, Rigby: Servicemembers and veterans have been an important part of Beverly McLendon’s life, as her husband served in active duty in the U.S. Army for 22 years. The Idaho State Council of the Vietnam Veterans of America nominated Bev McLendon noting her dedication to those still serving and those who formerly served. Bev is a member of and assists with fundraising for the American Legion Auxiliary, Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary and the Military Affairs Committee. She also organizes homecoming events for returning servicemembers, and she has sent hundreds of care packages to those on deployment. Bev says that she loves to be around the veteran community.
- Steve Pratt, Boise: The Idaho Veterans Assistance League nominated Steve Pratt, who is considered a very reliable volunteer. The League notes that Steve exemplifies the attitude and enthusiasm needed for all volunteers. Steve, who was drafted into the U.S. Army after graduating from high school and served in the Infantry in Vietnam, volunteers in the Idaho State Veterans Home—Boise’s Canteen. He says he enjoys talking with and helping other veterans, and considers the canteen to be his classroom. Steve’s career after his military service included working for IBM for 28 years followed by working for HP Inc. for six years prior to his retirement. He feels he can use his time in retirement to help veterans. Steve is guided by a focus on how he makes others feel. Steve has two children and five granddaughters.
- Connie Seymour, Boise: The Idaho State Veterans Cemetery nominated Connie Seymour. James A. Earp, State Veterans Cemetery Bureau Chief, wrote, “She brings a level of calm and confidence to everyone around her. Put simply, she brings out the best in everyone and everything that she does.” Connie comes from a military family. She considers raising her two children to be the most important job she has had. Her career also included working for the Ada County Sheriff’s Office—Record Department for 20 years. She feels her retirement provides an opportunity to help veterans, and she particularly likes volunteering at the cemetery during Memorial Day when she helps families locate buried veterans and offers comfort.
- Lucile Summerlin, Nampa: The Idaho State Veterans Home—Boise nominated Lucile Summerlin, who has assisted at the home for the past four years. In addition to assisting at the home, Lucile works part-time for Bridges Senior In-Home Care and is an officer at the Nampa Elks Lodge. As part of a military family, Lucile has extensively served our nation and its veterans. Lucile has been married for nearly 54 years to a Vietnam Veteran who served as an active duty soldier for 17 years. Their son, Scott, and daughter, Renee, also served in the military. Lucile and her husband have also adopted soldiers and military families providing care packages, letters and Christmas gifts. She has prepared Thanksgiving meals for soldiers and their families, worked on landscaping at a golf course designed for veterans, and more. For seven years, she volunteered weekly helping to feed veterans unable to feed themselves.
- Gene Womack, Blackfoot: The Idaho State Veterans Home—Pocatello nominated Gene Womack, crediting Gene with being “an outstanding veteran who serves his fellow military brothers and sisters.” Carrie Leavitt, with the Idaho State Veterans Home—Pocatello, wrote, “Gene is modeling to his family and everyone he meets the best practice of volunteering and selfless service to others. He is an inspiration in his drive to give back to those who have served our great nation.” Gene served 10 years in the Army Reserves and 26 years in the Navy Seabees Reserves. Gene also worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 41 years. He is a member of the Idaho Veterans Assistance League—East and the American Legion Stewart Hoover Post #23 and has been instrumental in ensuring veterans have items they and enjoyable events, including the home’s annual fishing trip. Gene and his wife of 63 years, Marietta, have five children, 12 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren.