By BRIAN WALKER
POST FALLS — A spontaneous, final honor for a veteran who had died has sparked widespread praise and prompted Post Falls residents to donate flags and money so the act can be repeated for other veterans who die in the city, outside a medical facility.
When Post Falls Police Department personnel were investigating the death by natural causes of Bill McRory, 70, on Thursday, Detective Neil Uhrig used his own money to have officers purchase an American flag to honor the veteran with respect, Chief Scot Haug said.
“When the funeral home arrived, our officers and detectives covered the veteran with the flag as he was transferred to the funeral home vehicle," Haug wrote in an online comment. "We had not done this before, but after listening to the impact this had on the officers and the family, we are considering it for all future death investigations involving veterans.”
The gesture that Haug highlighted also had an impact on community members who responded over the weekend by dropping off flags and monetary donations to buy them for similar future cases.
Mia McRory, a daughter of Bill’s, said her family was extremely thankful for the gesture. Bill served in the Navy from 1965 to 1971 during the Vietnam War. He loved the Pittsburgh Steelers, watching football, fishing, woodworking and spending time with his children and grandchildren.
“My dad was a private person, so this attention would make his eyes roll, but I also believe that if he knew it could help other families that he’d be OK with it,” Mia said.
“Our family could not be more grateful to the police officers who responded. They made us feel special during a difficult time.”
Mia said after police responded to her father’s death they noticed that Bill had military medals on his Steelers hat, so that’s when responders started inquiring about his service.
“It was a pretty cool way to honor him,” said Chris Richey, Bill’s son. “It meant a lot to us. We appreciate the compassion that was showed. If it starts something for other veterans’ families, that would be great.”
Tom Alexander, who owns Coffee Cottage in Post Falls and is a Coast Guard veteran, is offering $200 to help jumpstart a flag program for responders for future scenarios involving the deaths of veterans.
“If Post Falls Police is ready and willing to move forward, I think this is a great way to honor our veterans,” Alexander said. “I thought that it was a pretty amazing gesture. When I read about it, my wife (Angela) was sitting by me and we thought it would be a good idea to donate if they’re willing to keep doing this.”
Kelly Moore wrote online that she dropped off flags at the police department over the weekend “to make sure this becomes tradition.”
Post Falls Police Sgt. Mark Brantl, who was among those who responded to the death, said the flag gesture meant a lot to both the responders and the family.
“There was a lot of family there and, out of respect for the family, Neil made the decision to do that,” Brantl said. “It was a great idea and we hope the program can continue in the future. So many of our staff are veterans and even the ones who are not give our veterans the utmost respect.”
Haug said the community’s response has he and other administrators researching how to best set up such an honor program.
“We’re on a fact-finding mission to see just how often this occurs and how many flags we’d need because we want to make sure we do this the right way,” he said, adding that he doesn’t believe such scenarios are commonplace.
Haug and Kootenai County Fire and Rescue Chief Warren Merritt have also already started talking about a collaborative effort.
“If there’s a way to partner on it, we will,” Haug said.
Merritt added: “I thought it was a great idea and an excellent way to honor our veterans. We will be working out the details.”
Donald Thomas was among the many people who commented online about the gesture.
“This type of story reminds me that our world is also populated by caring people,” he wrote.
The Post Falls Community Ambassadors, a local 501(c)(3), is raising money to assist the Post Falls Police Department and Kootenai County Fire and Rescue with the purchase of flags. To donate, visit: www.gofundme.com/y8uhc-post-falls-veteran-flag-program.