During the Iraq-Kuwait war, Great Falls resident Pete Hilgartner had three nephews deployed for service in the Middle East.
“I can remember being glued to the TV, biting my fingernails and worrying about their safety,” said Hilgartner, speaking to a small gathering of people at the Nov. 11 Veterans Day Ceremony at the Great Falls Freedom Memorial. “I imagine that’s what the families of military service men and women are going through today.”
Hilgartner, a retired U.S. Marine and past president of the Great Falls Freedom Memorial Committee, reminded those present at Sunday’s Veterans Day service that it is crucial to show appreciation to all veterans.
“They are the ones that protect our freedom,” said Hilgartner.
Hilgartner’s daughter Dale Cirillo spoke about her experience growing up in a military family at the Nov. 11 Veterans Day Ceremony in Great Falls, noting that she considered it to be “a distinct honor.”
“My father has been my hero and my inspiration my whole life,” said Cirillo.
In addition to being the daughter of a retired Marine, Cirillo’s two sons currently serve in the U.S. Navy. Her son Jon is a junior grade lieutenant who has been at sea in anti-drug smuggling operations, and her other son Matthew is a hospital corpsman with the 1st Battalion 6th Marine Regiment who recently returned to the U.S. from combat operations in Iraq. Both of Cirillo’s sons were decorated with the Navy Marine Corps Achievement Medal during the past year for outstanding performance of duty.
CIRILLO SAID she felt it was appropriate that the Great Falls Freedom Memorial features a local rock that is millions of years old as its centerpiece, rather than a statue.
“What better to represent the unmoving sacrifice that they have made for us than this rock?” asked Cirillo. “Today we honor our veterans as this rock and memorial does everyday.”
Cirillo also reminded those present that veterans are all around them everyday, serving in a variety of capacities and coming from a variety of backgrounds.
“He and she are ordinary but extraordinary human beings, and many of them have sacrificed their ambitions and their dreams so other people would not have to sacrifice theirs,” said Cirillo, adding that saying thank you to a veteran can often mean more to them than any medal or award. “It is the veteran who salutes the flag, who serves under the flag, whose coffin is covered with the flag, who allows the demonstrator to burn the flag.”
Herndon Middle School student Emma Miller-Cvilikas and Saunders Middle School student Cameron Pulley also spoke at Sunday’s ceremony.
“When my dad went to Kuwait, I was really scared that he wouldn’t come back,” said Pulley. “When he did, I was really happy and thankful.”
Miller-Cvilikas said she always loved hearing the stories told by her “pop-pop.”
“I’d like to thank all of the veterans who have supported us and kept our country safe because I know that I could never do what they did,” said Miller-Cvilikas.