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Banners honor veterans

CALUMET — Anyone driving down Sixth Street in Calumet over Fourth of July weekend already knows a bit more about one of the area’s most noted veterans. 

A banner commemorating Staff Sgt. Marshall Kipina was put up on a streetlight Thursday, the first installed through a program to recognize veterans in Houghton and Keweenaw counties. 

Gene LaRochelle, board member of the Houghton County Veterans Affairs office, was inspired to start the program locally after his son told him about a similar program in the Cincinnati suburb of Owensville, Ohio. The banners there honor veterans going back to World War II, LaRochelle said. 

He brought it to the Houghton County Veteran Service Office, which approved of the idea; so did the Houghton County Board of Commissioners. The Veteran Service Office lined up a supplier in California to make the banners; about six more are ready to go, LaRochelle said. 

“I hope it’ll be a stimulus to the whole project and get more people on board,” LaRochelle said. “That’s what happened in Owensville. It just grew.”

Any veteran who has honorably served in the military is eligible, LaRochelle said. 

So far, Calumet, Houghton and Laurium have signed on to display the banners. LaRochelle said he is in talks with additional municipalities.

Kipina’s banner went up shortly before the 54th anniversary of his death. Kipina, an Army staff sergeant with the 131st Aviation Company, was serving as an observer on a night surveillance mission in Laos when the flight crashed in poor visibility conditions. His remains were finally recovered in 2018 and returned to Calumet, where he was buried with full military honors.  

“I just think it’s great that we’re able to honor our local veterans in this way,” said Veteran Service Officer Joe Battisfore. “I think it’s important to remember the sacrifices our veterans have made, especially men like Marshall Kipina and Neil Isaacson, who gave everything for their country.”

A banner for Isaacson, a Marine who suffered severe wounds in an explosion during the Vietnam War, is expected to go up sometime this week. 

Veterans or their families can contact the Veterans Office to begin the process of working on the banner. The cost is $87 for most; the county will pay for banners honoring any veteran who was killed in action. 

The Veteran Service Office will verify the veteran’s military service information, collect a picture for the banner, and send it to a vendor for the banner. 

The banners are recommended to be installed between Memorial Day and Labor Day for at least three years. 

Families interested in a banner can contact Veteran Service Officer Mike Bjorn at 482-0102 or VSO2HK@gmail.com.

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