by Laura L. Pace - Tuesday, November 7, 2017
"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations… ."
—U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, November 1919, proclaiming Nov. 11 as Armistice Day following the end of World War I [Congress changed the name to Veterans Day in 1954 to include American veterans of all wars.]
America has remembered for 98 years those who have served this great nation in uniform on Nov. 11, first as Armistice Day, and then as Veterans Day. Now in our 99th year of commemoration, the Department of Veterans Affairs has broadened the tradition of observance and appreciation to include both Veterans and Military Families for the entire month of November. But at Freedom Hunters, the tradition of Veterans Day is every day.
It is with immense pride and enthusiasm that Freedom Hunters carries on the American tradition of hunting, fishing and shooting. Freedom Hunters is a 501(c)3 military outreach program dedicated to honoring those who protect our freedoms. The mission is to salute the noble work of the courageous men and women of our nation’s Armed Forces. The tradition at Freedom Hunters is to express appreciation from the outdoor community to active-duty and combat veterans, families of fallen heroes and children of the deployed as well as to those wounded or injured.
Founder and Director of Freedom Hunters, Anthony Pace, understands how the long deployments away from America’s fields and streams can be hard on those who love our hunting and fishing traditions. Likewise, Pace identified that military families left behind during deployment need an opportunity to escape to the great outdoors to lift their spirits and boost morale. A particular memory Pace shares was an elk hunt with the young son of deployed U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class J. Burge. While Burge was in Iraq, Pace prepared his son for his first bull elk hunt in Colorado and kept the updates rolling in to his father overseas. Burge shared how the anticipation for his son was motivating and ultimately encouraged more than just him as Burge’s platoon kept track of his son’s progress.
The night the call went over to Iraq to report a successful bull elk harvest for Burge’s was worth everything invested as he was treated to cheers and back-slapping from the men in his platoon who all shared in the hunt from Iraq. As Burge expressed, “I was deployed and this organization helped me know that I was in the desert defending our freedoms for all the right reasons. Nowhere else that I have been would you see this kind of generosity and caring given to someone who is not your own.”
Gold Star families know the full price of freedom and hold a special place in the heart of Freedom Hunters. Through retreats and individual opportunities, Freedom Hunters makes certain that those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice are never forgotten. One particular hunt that resonates with Pace years later that will not soon be forgotten is the hunt in memory of PFC Kyle Bohrnsen.
Growing up in Phillipsburg, Mont., best friends Kyle Bohrnsen and Matt Mickelson hunted and fished together. After high school, each joined the military knowing the risks involved but, filled with pride for their country, chose to serve our great nation. However, in April 2007, the media reported that Kyle would not make it home from his tour in Iraq. Touched by the news story of these two best friends and the loss of Kyle’s life, the following September, Freedom Hunters sent out Kyle’s mother and father, a family friend and Matt Mickelson on a memorial bull elk hunt to honor their shared passions for the great outdoors, minus their beloved son and best friend.
"Through retreats and individual opportunities, Freedom Hunters makes certain that those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice are never forgotten."Day one came and went with sightings and stalking for elk but no shots. Day two arrived with great anticipation and heavy rain. The morning was slow and the decision to return to camp to get warm and dry after miles of hiking seemed best. By afternoon the rain ceased and soon the sounds of bugling elk were heard everywhere. They spotted dozens of elk grazing on the next mountainside, but dusk was near. They would return at first light, knowing the elk likely would not travel far.
After a short hike the next morning, the sounds of bugling bulls filled the waking skies. Sounding off their best calls to locate the bulls, they received the expected response and now only had to close the distance. Knowing they were close, Kyle’s dad sounded off a cow call and the thundering response froze everyone in their tracks before diving for cover. Just 60 yards below the team, a 6X6 bull stepped into the shooting lane. Matt drew his bow and dropped it.
Giving thanks for the bull, the team soon settled into silence as each of them, without prompting, turned inward and reflected on Kyle’s memory. Everyone knew bowhunting was Kyle’s passion and he was not there to see his best friend take his first bull with a bow and arrow. Yet they all knew Kyle was with them in the woods that day.
Much of life pales in comparison to witnessing a father whose pride for his son comes from a wounded heart because his boy served with honor and made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. There is nothing dearer than a mother whose face reflects love so deep for her son but is undeniably pained over his loss. She was soothed by the memories of her son's smile and love for the outdoors. And Kyle’s best friend, Matt, lives knowing he will never hunt alone as he faithfully carries with him the memory of his best friend.
Our veterans are brave, and we honor them. Our veterans are heroes, and we appreciate them. But let us not simply blanket them with terms such as honorable and brave. Instead let us not forget they each have names and they are brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, friends, sons and daughters. There is an indescribable pride within our military and their families—not just for their own, but for our country. With Nov. 11 on the horizon, may we, too, be part of sharing that pride.
At Freedom Hunters, every day is Veterans Day!
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About Freedom Hunters
Freedom Hunters salutes and honors those who protect our American freedoms. The mission of this 501(c)3 military outreach program is empowered by the generous support of many sportsmen, conservation groups, state agencies, outfitters, corporations and landowners. To learn how you can help, or to apply for a hunt for yourself or another member of the military, please click here. You also can contact Freedom Hunters by email at [email protected]. Visit the group on Facebook at facebook.com/FreedomHunters/.
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