Standing tall for the fallen

·5 min read

May 29—THEON, Wash. — Birds sang in a sometimes brisk breeze Saturday as half a dozen men solemnly lowered an American flag, folded it, then raised another at the home of Travis Polek.

The banners were the focal point of the sixth annual Theon Military Flag Ceremony that Polek and his girlfriend host Memorial Day weekend on the site of the mostly forgotten town.

The gathering attracted hundreds in spite of cold and rainy weather. Organizers honored veterans in what is likely the largest community event for residents of Anatone and the surrounding area.

"It's a lot of work getting it to go, but we're excited to put it on," Polek said.

Polek's father, a U.S. Army veteran, gave him a 42-foot flag pole about six years ago as a gift.

They installed it in the middle of May, and a handful of relatives and friends joined them that Memorial Day weekend when they raised a flag.

Since then, the tradition has grown. Polek and his girlfriend, Letha Brown, fly a flag at the main entrance to their property just off State Route 129 all the time.

They go through about three 6-foot-by-10-foot flags each year. During the ceremony, they exchange a smaller flag for a larger one that's 10 feet by 15 feet, which is reserved for Memorial Day weekend. It was a gift of Polek's brother, Todd Polek, who like his father, Tom Polek, is an Army veteran.

Prayers, the national anthem, songs from all branches of the military and a speech by retired Navy Cmdr. Charles Whitman, an Asotin County commissioner, were part of the observance.

Since 1775, it is estimated that more than 1.3 million military personnel have given their lives fighting for America, Whitman said. They represent people from all walks of life, including fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, physicians, teachers, factory workers, police officers and farmers, he added.

"They made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, their families and future generations so that we and future generations can live in freedom, security and, as the Declaration of Independence states, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," Whitman said.

The people who participate in ceremonies like the one in Theon on Saturday, help keep the focus on the reason Memorial Day was established instead of mattress discounts and the unofficial start of summer, he said.

"The picnics, sales and travel are all fun, but the memories and actions of the fallen are unequaled and far surpass everything else this weekend," he said.

After Whitman spoke, the master of ceremonies led the crowd in three rounds of shouting "God Bless America" before the crowd was treated to a free, covered-dish meal. The lunch featured grilled hot dogs and side dishes like baked beans and a cupcake cake decorated with strawberries and blueberries to look like an American flag.

The treat was the work of Lisa Lucero, an Anatone-area friend of Travis Polek and Brown. She's baked cakes before for the event and this year introduced cupcakes partly because it was time consuming to cut individual pieces for people as they walked through the line.

As people ate at tables decorated in red, white and blue, they were bidding on auction items in a fundraiser for the Idaho State Veterans Home in Lewiston.

Like the covered-dish meal, the auction was put together by volunteers.

Arlene Mullins, who has lived in the Anatone area for almost 30 years, donated her own jam, jellies and a huckleberry pie, made from berries she grows or gathers.

Area businesses, including Avista, CCI/Speer and NightForce, make contributions too, with the auction raising thousands of dollars.

"It's our small portion of giving back to the veterans," Polek said.

The activity at Polek's place Saturday's also recognized the heritage of Theon, a town that aspired to be the county seat.

A garden wall that was once a part of a town well still stands near Polek's house. The only other known physical remnant of the town is a cemetery at a separate site.

Theon peaked somewhere between about 1880 and 1900, once having a post office, blacksmith shop, stores, boarding house and saloon.

The hopes for the town were based on its proximity to timber that fed a Theon sawmill and fertile ground for raising grain, as well as its wish to become the county seat.

The town's founder, Daniel Theon Welch, arrived in Theon in 1879 and acquired land for the town, giving away lots in an attempt to attract settlers and improve its chances of becoming the county seat, according to one source.

After Asotin became the county seat, the community gradually faded. The crowd of more than 200 that typically attends Polek's event exceeds one of the few community celebrations documented at Theon that attracted about 120 people.

The "good people" of Theon celebrated one July 5 "with music, speeches and a dinner, and grand ball in the evening," according to an account in the Columbia County Chronicle of Dayton.

The camaraderie present Saturday appears to follow a Theon tradition.

"They had a royal time, all enjoying themselves hugely," according to the Columbia County Chronicle.

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.

If you go

A quick look at what's going on in our region:

Memorial Day ceremonies planned in L-C Valley

Several events in honor of Memorial Day are planned TODAY and MONDAY. Here are some of them, as provided Doug Welch, chairman of the Lewis-Clark Valley Veterans Council:

Culdesac Veterans Memorial rededication, 2 P.M. TODAY, Culdesac City Park.

American Legion 13 ceremony, 10 A.M. MONDAY, Normal Hill Cemetery, Lewiston.

VFW Post 10043 ceremony, 11 A.M. MONDAY, Mountain View Cemetery, Lewiston.

American Legion Post No. 246 ceremony, 11 A.M. MONDAY, Asotin Cemetery.

Idaho State Veterans Home ceremony, 2 P.M. MONDAY, at veterans home in Lewiston.

Do you have an event you would like to see listed? Send the information in an email to city@lmtribune.com.

"The picnics, sales and travel are all fun, but the memories and actions of the fallen are unequaled and far surpass everything else this weekend."

Retired Navy Cmdr. Charles Whitman