PARKSTON — A crowd gathered in the Parkston National Guard Armory on Wednesday for a Veteran’s Day ceremony that honored a pair of fallen local sons who gave their lives in service to their country.

And now, everyone who passes over the bridge that spans the James River on State Highway 44 east of Parkston will know the names of Jason W. Montefering and Jeremiah J. Boehmer, two United States Army veterans who died in service of their country, thanks to the Fallen Heroes Bridge Dedication Program, which bestowed the names of the two Parkston natives on the bridge at the event.

“(The program is) another opportunity for people who are crossing our state to see a name on a structure that has been invested in by the state,” said Gov. Kristi Noem, who helped spearhead the bridge dedication program and was the featured speaker at the dedication. “They’ll wonder who these men were and why they were honored this way. They will Google their names and learn their story, and they will all know that they are heroes.”

The bridge dedication program was founded in 2019 with cooperation between Noem and the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs, South Dakota Department of Military and the South Dakota Department of Transportation. The program dedicates state bridges to South Dakotans who died while in active service or are classified as missing in action. About six bridges are expected to be dedicated each year.

The bridge will now be known as the Staff Sgt. Jason W. Montefering and Sgt. Jeremiah Boehmer Memorial Bridge, with signs adorning the span.

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She noted that Montefering, who served as a staff sergeant, was raised in Parkston, and described him as someone who loved the farm and was always polite and courteous. After enlisting in the Army in 1997, he became a leader in the service, and always looked out for the best interest of those around him. She said comments from his fellow soldiers said his work ethic spoke volumes about his character, upbringing and desire to serve.

He was killed July 24, 2005 in Iraq on his second tour of duty at age 27.

Boehmer, a sergeant, she said, also grew up in Parkston and was a courageous young man. He joined the Army in 2002 and served in Afghanistan and Iraq. After a visit home in 2006, where he professed a possible interest in attending college someday to become a teacher, he was killed a month later on Feb. 5, 2006, at age 22, while on a routine security mission in Iraq.

Both received a number of citations, including the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, for their service.

Montefering and Boehmer are two of over 3,000 South Dakota veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country, Noem said. And they were examples of the selflessness of former and current members of the military who give of themselves to protect their fellow citizens and the democracy and freedom citizens have come to enjoy.

“They were young men when they sacrificed everything for our country. When they died they gave up the chance to be husbands, fathers and grandfathers,” Noem said. “I want to extend my prayers and condolences to their parents, their families and their friends. These two soldiers gave their lives so we could go on living as a free people — free to choose our own destiny in this free nation, and we will never forget that.”

Barbara McKean, who serves as the senior vice commander of the South Dakota VFW and post commander of the local VFW Post 3298, said the bridge memorial will also remind travelers of the dedication of all American military members, those who have died, those who have retired and those who continue to serve.

The men and women on call for the country help ensure the American way of life, she said.

“No matter which branch you served in, your job path or how many years you served, committing yourself to service in the military was a brave and selfless act, one that resulted in few guarantees for where you were assigned, whether and where you might be deployed, and in some cases, if you would return home in one piece. Or at all,” McKean said.

A cornerstone legacy

After members of the Montefering and Boehmer families unveiled the signs that would grace the bridge, those close to the fallen offered a few remarks on their friends and loved ones.

Charlene Montefering, a sister of Jason Montefering, spoke on behalf of the family.

“We are very proud of Jason for what he has done,” she said, thanking those in attendance for coming and their support. “He loved the farm, he loved his family, he loved being around his friends, and just loved life.”

Ryan Thury, a friend of Boehmer, recalled his friend as an empathetic person and someone who could dedicate himself to making others smile. He attended his senior year of high school wearing shorts every day, including graduation day, on a bet.

“We told him no way could he go the whole school year wearing shorts. He did. I remember graduation day, he actually walked across and got his diploma in shorts,” Thury recalled.

He brought that same dedication to a much more serious endeavor — his military service.

“He signed up, once again, with dedication,” Thury said.

The two honorees are among 48 million Americans who have served in the United States military since the founding of the country, said Greg Whitlock, secretary for the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs. Like Montefering and Boehmer, those who served represent the best of American values and dedication to the protection of their home, families and fellow citizens.

“If you have worked as I have with the men and women of our military, you know there is nothing they would not give to protect the people of this country,” Whitlock said.

Montefering and Boehmer proved they were willing to give everything they had to their country, and it is thanks to those like the two Parkston natives that even the simplest of tenants of freedom can be expressed in the United States, said Dave Hoffman, mayor of Parkston.

“We would not be standing here today if it weren’t for the veterans and people who fought for our freedom,” Hoffman said.

Noem agreed, saying South Dakotans should be grateful every day for those who serve in the United States armed forces. That includes gratitude for Montefering and Boehmer, whose names people will now read every time they cross over the James River.

“It is our sacred duty to keep their legacy fresh. Their legacy is the cornerstone of this great nation,” Noem said.