by Shelby Soule
Following a a year and a half of planning, donations and construction, a tribute to the residents of the Idaho State Veterans Home in Boise will be dedicated tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.
Formally opening its doors in 1895, the “Old Soldiers Home” was replaced in 1966 by the current facility near the VA hospital and administration building. When a statue of Abraham Lincoln [which adorned the grounds for 93 years] was relocated in 2009 to the Statehouse, it became clear that something needed to take its place.
“We started from that point forward trying to decide what would be appropriate to be out in that corner,” said Phil Hawkins, volunteer coordinator for the Veterans Home.
The two men most instrumental in the project's vision and implementation were Phil Hawkins and Dave Challe, the home’s maintenance supervisor. Both volunteered to design the tribute and get the project off the ground. Individuals and businesses throughout the community provided the necessary contributions to make the project a reality.
Hawkins named the venture the Yellow Ribbon Project.
“We did that for several reasons. Number one, I wanted it to be something associated with bringing people home. And the other thing I wanted it to be associated with is that, when we put people out there on that wall after a dedication, we can say that they are actually going home. And so that meant a lot to me and I wanted to make sure that was the idea behind it,” said Hawkins.
Saturday evening's ceremony will include a 21-gun salute, unveiling of the centerpiece sculpture, and the first-ever raising of the seven service flags honoring each branch of the armed services represented by the veterans over the years, including a Merchant Marine flag and Wake Island veterans' flag.
“The two stories that I think probably need to be told are the reactions of the Wake Island survivors and also the reaction of those from the Merchant Marines,” said Hawkins.
The veterans of both Wake Island and the Merchant Marines—some of whom lived in the home—did not receive veteran’s rights until the 1980s, and Hawkins’ idea to honor them with a service flag was well received by all.
“It’s exactly what I wanted,” Hawkins said of the finished project.
“It’s going to be a tribute for a long time, and when I say a long time I mean ... forever.”