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Veterans, Volunteers, Honored with Crapo's Spirit of Freedom Award

Four award ceremonies planned Sunday and Monday

Washington, DC - Eleven Idaho veterans and six volunteers serving Idaho vets will be honored Sunday and Monday with Idaho Senator Mike Crapo's Spirit of Freedom Award.  Crapo created the Spirit of Freedom Award to acknowledge the contributions, patriotism, service and sacrifice of Idaho's veterans and service-oriented volunteer leaders.  He has worked with Idaho's veterans community to present the awards during Veterans Day ceremonies in Idaho.


There are four ceremonies planned this year, split between Veterans Day on Sunday, November 11 th and Monday, November 12 th:


Boise          Sunday, November 11, Idaho State Veterans Home, 320 Collins Road, 11:00 AM


Twin Falls   Sunday, November 11, Twin Falls City Park Bandshell, 11:00 AM


Pocatello    Sunday, November 11, Idaho State Veterans Home, 1957 Alvin Ricken Drive, 2:30 PM


Lewiston    Monday, November 12, Idaho State Veterans Home, 821 21 st Avenue, 2:00 PM


Here is the list of the 2012 Spirit of Freedom Awards to veterans and volunteers:




  • Jimmy R. Berkley , Twin Falls:  Jimmy Berkley's ongoing service to our country and fellow veterans has earned Spirit of Freedom Award recognition three years in a row.  With family members who served in World War I, World War II and the Korean War, Jimmy has fulfilled a family tradition of serving our country.  Jimmy Berkley has been recognized for his diligent efforts and ability to perform the work of two skilled personnel as an Air Traffic Control Radio Repairman for the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. 


Following his military service, for which he earned numerous awards, Jimmy returned to the place of his birth, Twin Falls, where he was employed at Amalgamated Sugar Company for more than thirty years.  He is an active member in veterans service groups, including the Marine Corps League, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) of the United States.  He maintains the Rock Creek Cemetery, and he is a member of the Magic Valley honor guard, performing Military Rites at veterans' funerals.  Jimmy Berkley has dedicated more than 730 hours to outstanding service.  He has simply done so much for his fellow veterans and community, and it is an honor to present Jimmy Berkley with the 2012 Spirit of Freedom Award for his unwavering service.  


  • John Otto Jr. Cowman, Pocatello:  John, who grew up on a farm in South Dakota where he learned to work hard, is being honored for his considerable service to our nation.  He served as a mechanic during the Korean War and kept the airplanes in the air.  He earned the National Defense Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, Korean Service Medal and Good Conduct Medal.  


After his military service, John worked as a mechanic.  John's daughter noted his ability to fix any car that was not running.  In 1963, John married Wilma.  They have three daughters--Nancy, Julie and Amy--who consider John to be a "great dad."  John has enjoyed camping and fishing with his family and with his sweetheart.  Wilma and John also spent many hours in their garden and canning the fruits and vegetables that they grew.  His other interests include hunting and searching for arrowheads and rocks.  He also has a love for bird watching and his Blue Healer dog, "Buster."  I am proud to honor John Cowman's devoted service through the 2012 Spirit of Freedom Award.  


  • Richard C. Erickson, Boise:  Captain Richard C. Erickson has served our nation and its veterans with distinction.  He entered the U.S. Marine Corps in 1977 and served for 21 years.  His career has been characterized by exemplary service and steady advancement in rank and responsibility in a succession of challenging assignments.  He earned a number of honors for his remarkable service, including the Meritorious Service Medal, Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Navy Unit Commendation and Meritorious Unit Commendation. 


He participated in Operation Desert Storm during his assignment as Chief Warrant Officer in an Assault Amphibian Battalion.  He also served in Okinawa, Japan and played an instrumental role in the development of improved reliability program for Assault Amphibious Vehicles.  His most recent military assignment, prior to his retirement from the Marine Corps in 1998, was commanding the Ordnance Company, 1st Maintenance Battalion at Camp Pendleton, CA.  For the past fourteen years, Captain Erickson has been a member of the Treasure Valley Detachment, Marine Corps League.  He has served as detachment commandant and detachment quartermaster.  For the past ten years, he has also been instrumental in providing Marine Corps League supporting activities to the Boise Veterans Home including the Veterans Olympics, parking lot cookouts and Marine Corps Birthday Activities.  Captain Erickson and his wife, Kathy, have a daughter, Ashley, and he is employed by Utility Truck Equipment.  It is an honor to present Captain Erickson with a 2012 Spirit of Freedom Award for his ongoing dedication to our nation and veterans.


  • Daniel Michael Geib, Boise:  Sergeant Geib is being recognized for his outstanding service to our country on behalf of our nation's veterans.  Sergeant Geib served in the U.S. Air Force from July of 1965 to May of 1969 and served in the 377th Security Police Squadron, Accident Investigation in Law Enforcement.  Dan served during the Vietnam War, and his unit received the Outstanding Unit Citation Award from President George W. Bush. 


Following his military service, Dan also had a 27-year career with Kimberly Clark Association as a National Sales Representative for Idaho.  Dan has been characterized as a pleasure to work with, and he always has a great story about a past or current event.  He has spent considerable time volunteering with the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery, where his assistance has been greatly appreciated.  Dan and his wife, Kathleen, have been married for 46 years, and they have been blessed with three children, ten grandchildren and one great-grandchild.  Dan's continuous service has benefited the community, state and nation, and it is a pleasure to present him with a 2012 Spirit of Freedom Award.       


  • Gale M. Hacking, Boise:  Gale, who served four years in the U.S. Navy and discharged in 1972, continues his dedicated service through volunteering at the Idaho State Veterans Home in Boise, where is he is a valued volunteer.  He earned the National Defense Service Medal and Vietnam Service Medal with one bronze star for his honorable service. 

After his Navy service, Gale's work included core drilling and carpentry.  He currently works for the Boise VA Medical Center in the Behavioral Health Department through which he helps veterans gain successful employment.  Gale has two sons, two stepdaughters, six grandchildren and many friends.  He states, "I am truly blessed to live in this beautiful, wonderful country."  His volunteer work includes setup and cleanup of activities and assisting veterans getting to and from and participating in the activities.  He also helps run the lift on the bus, ensuring all residents are secure.  These are just a few of the many ways Gale helps out.  He has been described as hard working, compassionate and a reliable volunteer.  It is an honor to recognize Gale Hacking's devoted service through the 2012 Spirit of Freedom Award.        


  • Merlin J. Hepler , Lewiston:  Merlin is recognized for his many years of service to our nation.  Merlin, who was born in Hot Springs Virginia, was one of eight children in his family.  In 1947, Merlin Hepler enlisted in the Army Air Corp and then the U.S. Air Force.  He served our nation for more than 20 years and retired in 1967.  His wartime activities included serving during the Berlin Airlift, Cold War, Korean War and Vietnam War. 


After his military service, Merlin worked for Lanier International of Atlanta, Georgia, attended the University of Idaho, earning a business degree and worked in real estate and property management.  I am proud to honor Merlin's remarkable service to our nation through the 2012 Spirit of Freedom Award. 


  • Pete Oakander, Middleton:  Pete's actions are recognized as reflecting the highest values of service to veterans and the community.  Pete Oakander joined the U.S. Navy Reserve in 1968 and served aboard river boats in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam as a Radioman and Gunner's Mate, Engineman and Botswain's Mate.  He earned a Purple Heart and then served as a staff radioman and logistical planner aboard the U.S.S. Benewah.  His other service honors include the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Combat Action Ribbon and the Navy Commendation Medal.


Pete also earned a Construction Management degree from Boise State University and worked for forty years in construction.  He co-wrote a book regarding construction scheduling best practices and guidelines.  Pete and his wife, Elaine, have been married for fifteen years.  In addition to spending time with Elaine's two daughters and their families, Pete volunteers to assist other veterans.  He serves as Commander of the Chief Joseph Chapter 509-Military Order of the Purple Heart, and has worked to make organizational advancements.  Due to his love of the organization and service to veterans, he continues to serve despite being disabled and requiring multiple surgeries.  Pete's ongoing service to our nation and veterans is commendable, and it is a privilege to present him with the 2012 Spirit of Freedom Award.


  • Chester Kenneth Smith, Boise:  Kenny Smith, who joined the U.S. Navy in 1944 and served as a Fireman First Class during World War II, continues to serve his fellow veterans and community.  Every day, Kenny visits his wife's grave, at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery, before beginning his volunteer duties at the cemetery.  Kenny's knowledge of the cemetery is helpful to visitors, and he is always available when assistance is needed. 


After leaving the military, he returned to Idaho and worked for Mountain Bell Telephone Company for 36 years.  He was married to his wife, Doris, for 55 years.  They have two children, three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.  Those who work with Kenny at the cemetery indicate they love working with Kenny.  He is always available when assistance is needed, anticipates any potential problems and makes adjustments to avoid them.  He is an exemplary volunteer.  In addition to this volunteer work, Kenny has been a member of the Elks Lodge for 32 years, and he rejoined the Veterans of Foreign Wars in 2003.  Kenny's dedication to serving our nation and his community is commendable, and it is an honor to present him with a 2012 Spirit of Freedom Award.


  • Samuel Clayton Taylor, Pocatello:  Dr. Taylor has served our nation and Idaho with distinction.  Samuel Clayton Taylor was born on April 1, 1923 and raised in the high plains of northwest Kansas.  His father died when Sam was two years old, and he was raised by his mother, who supported Sam and his brother by teaching piano lessons and playing in the community.  Sam's childhood jobs included working as a janitor at the movie theater and working harvest.  The family lived through both the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.  Sam attended Phillips College in Oklahoma before entering the U.S. Navy to be trained as an officer and surgeon.  Sam served in the Korean War as a surgeon in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) unit.  Sam married his wife, Dorothy Jeanne Moon in 1949, and they lived in several states before settling permanently in Nampa in 1955.  They had five children-John, Andrew, Sarah, Martha and Daniel.  Jeanne passed away in 1955.


Dr. Taylor was a General Surgeon at Mercy Hospital, which eventually became Mercy Medical Center, and he worked in a private clinic for more than 40 years.  He retired from Mercy Medical Center in 1996, but worked part time from 1998 to 2008 at the Boise VA Medical Center.  Sam remarried in 2004 to Ruth Harris, and the couple divorced in 2009.  Sam was civically active, including his service on the Nampa School Board.  He loves sports, was an avid outdoorsman and sang with the Boise Master Choral for nearly fifteen years and the Boise-based Idaho Opera.  At the Pocatello Veterans Home, Sam plays the violin, enjoys shooting pool and going on drives.  It is a privilege to present Dr. Taylor with a 2012 Spirit of Freedom Award.


  • Marvin Donald Whiting, Pocatello:  Don Whiting has served our nation admirably.  He was born in 1931 in Delmont, South Dakota.  He has great memories of his childhood of fishing, trapping and working on the farm.  Don joined the U.S. Army when he was eighteen years old, and served in Germany as a Corporal during the Korean War.  Don received a certificate of training for Demolition Mines and Boobie Traps. 


Don married his wife, Georgina in 1959, and Don has six stepchildren to whom he is known as a wonderful Dad.  He and his family like to spend time together, and Don taught his family to love the outdoors.  Fishing was one of the many activities they enjoyed.  Don traveled significantly with his job in mining to many of the western states.  He also worked as a mechanic for the J.R. Simplot Company for 26 years.  Don also enjoyed golfing, yard work, being a rock hound and making jewelry.  Don was a member of the Blackfoot American Legion.  Don is most known for his smile, which is why he has the nickname "Smiley."  It is a privilege to present Don with the 2012 Spirit of Freedom Award. 


  • Monty Blake Wynn, Boise:  Monty Wynn has served our nation with distinction and continues to volunteer significant time to assisting fellow veterans.  He was born in Baker City, Oregon and entered the U.S. Navy in 1974 after high school and served for twenty years.  He followed in his brother's footsteps in becoming a submariner.  Monty is known for his determination.  He joined the Navy toward the end of the Vietnam War, and became a qualified submariner in less than six months, in half the time it typically took to earn qualification at the time.  Monty wrote curriculum for the next generation of Ballistic Submarines, the Ohio Class Submarine (Trident).  He earned a number of medals and recognitions throughout his service.  This includes him being awarded top naval instructor numerous times. 


Monty learned at a young age to help, be kind and do the right thing, and that is what he does.  In 1988, he was awarded the Humanitarian Service Medal for help with Hurricane Hugo.  His story of his special retirement-underwater at 200 feet with family, friends and shipmates present-is documented at the War Hawk Museum in Nampa and in the Veterans History Project compiled by the Library of Congress.  Monty believes his greatest service is what he does now volunteering at the Boise VA Medical Center.  In his words, "My service in the Navy, my friends and family, schoolteachers and God groomed me well for my service to all our vets."  Monty's extraordinary service and leadership through example is commendable, and I grateful for the opportunity to present him with a 2012 Spirit of Freedom Award.        




  • Dennis Yates, Boise:  Dennis Yates, a volunteer at the Idaho State Veterans Home-Boise for more than twelve years, has been described as a great advocate for veterans and their needs.  Among his volunteer efforts, Dennis, who enjoys helping veterans who are unable to help themselves, developed a strong relationship with an extremely handicapped veteran.  Dennis helped the veteran, who has since passed away, attend numerous events and activities.  Dennis continues to help veterans today as they attend various activities both in the Idaho State Veterans Home and out in the community. 


Dennis also served in the Fort Boise Canteen for a number of years.  During this time, he went out of his way to make the veterans feel welcome, delivering their requests when they were unable to get them.  Every Saturday, Dennis helps with the home's bingo program and serves as an "on call" volunteer for out-of-home weekend and evening activities.  He is responsible, caring and willing to help any time his work allows.  Dennis' giving spirit and commitment to assist veterans is admirable, and it is a privilege to present him with a 2012 Spirit of Freedom.       


  • John Amodie , Pocatello:  John Amodie is a highly decorated soldier who continues to serve his fellow veterans.  He has stated, "I love these veterans.  They are my brothers."  John was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1938.  After losing his mother to diphtheria at three years old, John went to live at the Sisters of Mercy Orphanage.  When he seventeen years of age, he joined the U.S. Air Force and served for four years.  John attended the University of Rhode Island, earning a Bachelor of Science Degree, and he is a Registered Nurse. 


When John was twenty-seven years old, he joined the U.S. Army and served in the Combat Green Beret Special Forces.  He served two tours in Vietnam and one tour in Desert Storm and served as a Command Sergeant Major.  John has earned a number of honors and recognitions including the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Presidential Unit and Vietnam Cross of Gallantry.  John retired after twenty-six years of service in the Army Special Forces.  In 1968, John's daughter, Angela, passed away from leukemia, and his wife, Laurie, passed away six months later.  In 2008, John married Martha.  Also that year, John started volunteering at the Idaho State Veterans Home-Pocatello.  John volunteers in the canteen, and is always lending a hand whatever needed.  John can be found watering flowers, visiting with veterans, assisting veterans to meals and going on outings.  His efforts include putting up sixty American flags for the holidays.  John's compassion and care for his fellow veterans is evident in his dedicated assistance.  It is an honor to present John Amodie with a 2012 Spirit of Freedom Award.   


  • Virginia Estrada , Boise:  Virginia began volunteering at an early age in local hospitals and gravitated to the Boise VA Medical Center, where she has assisted for twenty-eight years.  She has been instrumental in a number of programs, including sewing programs and services, recreation, community activities, personal visits and special events.  Virginia was born and grew up in Boise.  While attending Boise High School, she volunteered at St. Luke's as a candy striper.  She also went with her mother when she visited patients at the VA Medical Center. 

As director of her church community service organization, Virginia worked with the Food Bank Council and other city agencies to help those in need of assistance.  Virginia also served as a member of Boise's disaster planning group, and Virginia and her family took in many people into their home who had nowhere else to turn.  In 2000, she retired from her position to pursue mission trips to Peru.  Virginia took over her mother's volunteer position when her mother became a snow bird.  Virginia sews whatever is needed for the patients; her daughter also volunteers, as did her late husband.  Virginia says it has been an honor to serve the veterans and she has enjoyed being part of the caregivers in this unique team.  Virginia's devoted service to veterans is extraordinary, and it is an honor to present her with the 2012 Spirit of Freedom Award.   


  • Juanita Henson , Lewiston:  Juanita Henson has dedicated more than 2000 hours to volunteering at the Idaho State Veterans Home-Lewiston, where she is a valued volunteer and holds the best interest of the residents close to her heart.  Juanita's husband was a veteran, and Juanita feels that she needs to give back for the help the VA gave to her husband for approximately ten years. 


Juanita's volunteer duties include helping with bingo and managing the home's cheer basket activity.  Juanita says that she likes to see the sparkle in the resident's eyes when she enters their room with the candy card during the cheer basket activity.  Juanita is also in charge of the American Legion Auxiliary sponsored Christmas gift table that enables residents to pick out Christmas gifts for their families.  Juanita puts in many hours procuring the funds and gifts, and making mailing labels and gift tags.  She is also active with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary among other organizations.  Juanita's committed service is commendable, and I welcome the opportunity to present her with the 2012 Spirit of Freedom Award.


  • Carmen Metzer, Mountain Home:  After retiring in 2002 from teaching for more than thirty years, Carmen Metzer volunteers regularly at the Idaho State Veterans Home, working in the canteen, playing cards, helping with the gift shop and helping with many other activities that take place at the home.  She also volunteers at the VA Medical Center and at Cedar Crest Residential Care.  For forty-five years, Carmen has been married to her husband, James, who is a Vietnam Veteran and served for twenty-two years in the U.S. Air Force.  Her three brothers also served during the Vietnam era. 


Carmen is a graduate of Dakota State College in Madison, South Dakota with a degree in Elementary Education.  During her teaching career, she was awarded "Elementary Teacher of the Year" in 1999-2000 for the Mountain Home School District.  In addition to her volunteer work with veterans and her teaching career, Carmen has been a member of the American Legion Auxiliary Elmore Unit #26 for thirty-three years, and has served as Unit President three times and served as chairman of most of the unit's committees.  She also served in leadership at the district and department levels, and has served on the board as Chairman, Director, Dean of Counselors and Counselor for the Girls State program.  Carmen's commitment to veterans and her community is exemplary and deserving of recognition through the 2012 Spirit of Freedom Award.      


  • Lance Stephensen, Boise:  Lance Stephensen has been serving veterans for more than forty years.  He is recognized as a great leader, volunteer, mentor and friend to many people.  He always manages to keep his sense of humor and make sure everyone is having fun.  Lance and his wife Judy live in the Boise area.  Lance is a longtime supporter of veterans and the POW/MIA cause, due to his father's service.  Lance's father Colonel Mark Stephensen was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967 and was listed as Missing In Action.  He was repatriated twenty-one years later due to the efforts of the National League of POW/MIA Families. 


Lance and his brother Mark continue to support and promote the National League as continuing members of the organization, and Lance is the Idaho State Coordinator for the organization.  Lance also currently serves as Senior Advisor to the Boise Valley POW/MIA Corp and serves on the committee for the Idaho Fallen Soldiers Memorial.  Additionally, Lance set up an Honor Flight hub in Boise last year, and he serves as Director of Honor Flight of Idaho.  Recently, Lance coordinated the first Honor Flight of Idaho trip to Washington, DC.  The trip enabled 24 World War II veterans, some of their spouses and 12 guardians to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC and many other monuments dedicated to all veterans.  He enjoys the camaraderie on trips, but this one was most memorable for him as he was able to help those he views as true heroes.  Lance's other volunteer efforts include volunteering at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery and the War Hawk Air Museum.  Lance's dedication to veterans is remarkable, and it is an honor to present him with the 2012 Spirit of Freedom Award.