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Pancakes, parade, flyover highlight Arlee’s Fourth

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ARLEE- The Arlee community celebrated the Fourth of July with a pancake breakfast benefit for the volunteer fire department, an F-15 flyover, and a parade that closed northbound traffic on Highway 93 for more than an hour.

Hundreds of Mission Valley residents piled into Arlee’s old fire hall in the early morning hours to show support for their local volunteer firemen. An annual tradition with no clear origin, the event is thought to be more than 40 years running. It may have started as far back as 1952 when the district was created. Raising around $6,600 for the fire department, fire chief Ken Light called it a successful event. 

“We’re partially funded by the state, but this means a lot because this is how we buy a lot of the stuff we need,” said volunteer fireman Lorin Light. 

The Arlee fire department is one of only a few combined fire and ambulance services in the state. In past years, money from the pancake benefit was used to purchase thermal imaging equipment to better locate hot spots in fires and instruments that detect toxic gasses. With this year’s take, chief Ken Light hopes to finish the new fire hall’s kitchen and training room. 

Shortly after the pancake breakfast ended, parade floats and spectators began to gather in the Arlee High School parking lot as event organizer Tim Morin began closing northbound traffic on Highway 93. 

Morin works full time as a special education teacher in the Arlee school district. His mother, Alvaretta Morin, heads up the parade committee while Morin and his wife, sisters, children and father help her any way they can. Morin says his official title is “number one son.”

As number one son, part of Morin’s job is closing down northbound traffic on Highway 93, to complete the figure-eight parade route, which runs throughout Arlee.

When the new Highway 93 was built, southbound traffic was taken out of downtown Arlee. 

“I don’t think it’s very good for the businesses. In fact, I think it’s kind of rough,” Morin said. “For a lot of the locals, putting the parade back down Main Street is a big deal. It’s like we own our town again.”

By noon, all traffic is diverted and the parade floats, spectators and participants are lined up in the high school parking lot. The starting gun they’re all waiting for is a flyover by two F-15C fighter jets from Malstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls. A hush falls over the crowd as a child yells, “Look mom! The jets!”

Appearing on the horizon as mere specks, the two planes fly directly over the parade route at 350 miles per hour. 

The crowd cheered and Arlee’s Fourth of July parade was on. A mass of horses, fast cars and creatively-themed floats rolled through the streets. Smokey the Bear made an appearance aboard a fire department vehicle; Spur the Cancer Out of Montana showed up with nearly 50 horses and riders wearing pink; and Tim Morin drove past in a float depicting the flag-raising at Iwo Jima.

A banner beneath his float reads, “In honor of Louis Charlo, Iwo Jima, Feb. 1945”

Private Louis Charlo was a Marine from Mission Valley who served in WWII. He was a part of the first flag-raising on Iwo Jima(the famous picture was posed and taken later in the day). Charlo was killed in action while trying to save a wounded friend.

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