HOUGHTON - Both those who serve in the military and those who work on their behalf at home were honored in a ceremony Saturday.
More than 350 people turned out for the Freedom Rally at the Copper Country Mall, held after the annual Parade of Thanks.
This year's grand marshals were the Mattila brothers of Toivola. Five of the brothers received awards; female family members received bouquets of flowers. Other family members accepted awards for the three deceased brothers and one who is at home with his wife, who is ill.
Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Five of the Mattila brothers of Toivola — from left, James, Gordon, Sanfred, Earl and Leo — are seen in attendance at Saturday’s Freedom Rally. The grand marshals of this year’s Parade of Thanks — including the remaining brothers Alvin (not present), and the late Yalmer, Wesley and Walfred — were honored with plaques at the rally. All nine brothers served in the military.
"You don't realize what an honor that is," said Sanfred Mattila. "It really is something. To be represented by nine brothers serving in the military, you'll never find anything like that."
When Sanfred received his award, he received a surprise - his daughter wore his Sisu the Clown outfit for the occasion.
"I enjoyed it," Sanfred said. "I don't think I'll ever have any honor as high as this one right now."
Kenneth Toth, former pastor of the Northwoods Christian Assembly in Calumet, received the award for Patriot of the Year.
"It's good to be here, back to my roots in the Copper Country, and I'm so glad," he said.
Junior Patriot of the Year Deanna Hallstrom, a junior at Jeffers High School in Painesdale, recited a poem she wrote about the Mattila brothers.
"We'll always remember what you did for us/you kept us safe and kept us free," the poem said in part.
Other winners of school drawing and essay prizes received awards and presented their works at the ceremony.
Musical performances included numbers by Courtney Clisch and Tom Katalin, a children's choir doing "The Star-Spangled Banner," and a musical number with lyrics written by a soldier.
Several of the past grand marshals came back for this year's event as well, including 2007's grand marshal, Derek Gagne, a soldier wounded in Iraq who played "Taps" to close the ceremony.
Chris Mayo of L'Anse came to the ceremony to support his uncle, who is heading back to Iraq on Tuesday.
"It was amazing," he said.
The front of the room was lined with letters and drawings to the troops from area schoolchildren.
Army veteran Arvo Onermaa of Hancock was looking at the walls after the ceremony. The community turnout was wonderful, he said.
"People are tuned to these things from the heart," he said.
Garrett Neese can be reached at email@example.com