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The Few, the Proud

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Picture courtesy National Archives & Records Administration Picture courtesy National Archives & Records Administration

Local veterans make a difference in their community

FADE IN He sat across the table—a deep booming voice from an average-sized man. He told stories of standing his ground against urban drug lords and living the cautious life—“armed and dangerous” while living in Tacoma. Steroid-driven bouncers at every corner, teed-off because he fired them for dealing drugs in the four-story nightclub he managed there, 20 of them to be exact. Then there was the lady he followed to Seattle all the way from Massachusetts, the mother of his only son, William. This is an Army Cold War vet who sat armed in Outpost Alpha, right at the border between East and West Germany at the height of Cold War tensions, the clock ticking two minutes to midnight, a qualified M60 man. His favorite.

CUE THE THEME MUSIC from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”—the guy needed a pair of spurs and a cigar sticking out of his mouth, telling tales of a kind of gun-duel life all over the world. This is Sandpoint’s own Jonny Knight, the deejay for local radio station 95.3 FM KPND. His day job.

“We were known as the West Germany Speed Bump,” Knight said. “The life expectancy at Outpost Alpha, in the event the Russians actually did decide to cross the border, was 18 minutes or less.”

Knight said Americans sat on one side of the border and the Russians on the other, both sides just watching the other.

This was a little tinder box of terror, if the right spark was struck. Fortunately both sides kept their cool. No gun duels or deadly showdowns, just a lot of narrow-eyed distrust typical of the Cold War.

After training with the French Commando, a joint NATO training unit, and travelling Europe, he left the Army for the Reserves. He tried to get back in for the first Gulf War, but the Army was overflowing with more highly trained combat arms than they needed.

Knight moved on from Massachusetts to Seattle, following a lady love across the states. That’s where he managed Lakewood Bar & Grill next to Fort Lewis, just outside of Tacoma. Another policeman-style job, but this time he had to throw out five to ten people per night, mostly military men who had too much to drink.

“We kept things on the down low for those guys,” Knight said. “I had a relationship with the post commanders who’d send MPs over to get them. This was the kind of place where there’d be 300-pound Samoans on one side and military guys on the other. The fight would break out. The Samoans would throw these 80-pound tables, the kind of table that could kill a guy if it hit him. It was a lot of fun sprinkled with a little terror.”

Knight shifts in his seat, the flash in his eye recalling it all.

“We’d detain people ourselves,” Knight said. “Cuff ‘em to the light pole outside. That place had a lot of disparity between the low-end and high-end client.”

Knight earned a reputation there as a money guy, the kind of guy who had strict control on the cash flow. Not long after the Lakewood, Knight was hired by John Hemmen to run what was at first a two-story and later a four-story nightclub, the top two stories a long-since-defunct gay bar. The place was expanded into a 500-person dance floor with techno, and cutting edge sound and lights. The upper floors housed jazz, blues and pool tables. The top floor held live music from rock and roll and hip-hop headliners.

“One night a deejay left his house with toast cooking. The burning toast started a fire,” Knight said. “So when the firemen came with the police to put the fire out, they found a bag of pot and arrested him.”

Hemmen then hired Knight at an extra $5,000 per year to his already healthy salary with the hitch that he wouldn’t hire a back-up deejay, and Knight would then be the back-up.

“So I was a general manager-slash-DJ-slash street fighter. There were five fights per night at that place,” Knight said. “When I first took over managing, there were 20 bouncers all dealing drugs out of the bar. I fired them all. So I was armed and dangerous the whole time in Tacoma.”

In 1996, Knight’s marriage was on the rocks and they divorced. He had a second “bad marriage” there—but something even more disturbing happened next.

Two bouncers had escorted a gang-banger out to his car in the parking lot. The gang-banger killed them both instantly with a 9mm. Knight decided his night club days were over.

He was then hired by Jack Peterson, who owned several restaurants that used to be owned by the county—things like golf course restaurants and the like, all prior municipal properties. Knight went to work running the wine program at the River Rock Grill, owned by Peterson on the public county golf course.

“I used to be able to do food pairings. We were gold medalists in ‘Wine Spectator’ for our wine lists,” Knight said. “One night Jack and I went to an Aerosmith concert. Jack got into a Corvette with a woman he didn’t know. They got into a car accident. He ran into a light pole, and the car was on fire. He burned to death. This was very devastating. It was sort of sordid because he was married at the time.”

Knight said Peterson was the “greatest boss anyone could hope for. He would take us to his cabin for management meetings. He’d let us raid the wine fridge. We’d take $1,000 worth of wine with us and cook and have our meeting.”

Knight said after Peterson’s death, it soon became apparent he was on the downsizing list for River Rock, a three-property company he and other management were streamlining for Peterson’s wife so she could take it over.

“I was given a nice separation package on friendly terms,” Knight said.

Out of a job and no lady to follow across the states, Knight had another life-changing moment. After Peterson’s death, Knight had a phone call with his first ex-wife. She suggested he come live in Sandpoint, where she was living. Knight, accustomed to an $85,000 per year salary, at first wasn’t too hip on the idea.

In the classifieds he found an ad: “Woman seeking deejay for weddings.” That was his first job here in Sandpoint. Not long after, KPND had a ski party at the Power House Bar & Grill. Mike Duprez hosted the party, but his co-host never showed-up. Duprez then hired Knight to deejay between giveaways.  Shortly thereafter Knight was interviewed at KPND and hired on the spot. It didn’t take long for our regular morning show voice to gain a following and earn his own show.

This is the same man who for free sponsors all the Disabled American Veteran and Vietnam Veterans of America events with live air-time coverage.

“I feel a sense of responsibility for our ‘Hot War’ vets,” Knight said. “We’re willing to send them to war but not willing to take care of them when they come home. The psychological effects of going back to Iraq and Afghanistan three, four, five, six times takes its toll. To me, the current treatment of our vets should be a national source of shame.”

Knight also narrates Operation Grad Night, a collaborative effort between Bonner General Hospital, the Sheriff’s Office, Emergency Services, Sagle and Sandpoint Fire Stations, Idaho State Patrol, Clark Fork, Priest River, Lake Pend Oreille and Sandpoint high schools, and KPND. Op Grad Night is an edgy and ultra real-life presentation that includes a mock DUI crash, complete with triage, extrication and helos, narrated by Knight and actor Joe Figaro (Star Trek).

If you ever wonder where that morning show voice gets its deep tones and sometimes serious style, check into a seat next to Knight. Saddle up for a few stories right out of a Clint Eastwood movie or a few scenes straight from the film “Training Day.”

CUT TO BOB WYNHAUSEN Heading down Highway 200 in the DAV van, the American flag striped across its side, this incredible hulk of a voice tells a story to pass the time. He’s driving a load full of sick vets to the Veterans Hospital in Spokane for physician appointments. He finds a way to articulate through the ill tension hanging in the air. The sheer entertainment of his stories breaks the feeling of sickness. This is Bob Wynhausen, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve from ‘62 to ‘68.

He tells a story of his Marine Corps Boot Camp Drill Instructor (DI). In the cadence of his voice, DI Hartman in “Full Metal Jacket” should’ve been watching over his shoulder: “I am Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, your Senior Drill Instructor. From now on, you will speak only when spoken to, and the first and last words out of your filthy sewers will be “Sir!”  Do you maggots understand that?”

FLASHBACK: “My DI called me Bilko, after Sgt. Ernie Bilko from ‘No Time for Sergeants’ played by Phil Silvers on TV in the 1950s, partly for the glasses and partly for my attitude,” Wynhausen said, cracking a smile. “I was the oldest member of our platoon at 22. I didn’t show too much fear of the DI.”

Wynhausen is at the rifle range in boot camp learning to use an M14.

“I’d never shot anything more powerful than a .22,” Wynhausen said. “I was also the only left-handed rifleman in my platoon. Normally they would’ve made me learn to shoot right-handed, because the rifle was designed for right-handers. My Drill Instructor was also a lefty. For some odd reason, he liked me.”

Shooting left-handed didn’t seem to improve his game. Wynhausen was holding the rifle wrong so the recoil shot back so hard the rifle split his lip. Wynhausen earned many a “Maggie’s Drawers”—a term for a red flag waved from the rifle pits signifying a total miss during qualification firing. To qualify, a private had to earn a score of 190 or better out of 250. Wynhausen was shooting in the 140s. His DI, Regalot, wasn’t happy and duck walked Wynhausen up and down a hill called “Little Agony” with his rifle at arms length to make him comply.

“The next day he warned me that if I continued to jerk the trigger, he was going to pound my trigger finger with a ball-peen hammer to make it so sore all I could do is squeeze,” Wynhausen said. “At the range I improved my score over Monday’s, firing in the 160s. Not good enough for Sgt. Regalot.”

Regalot’s cadence made its way into the silence of the van. That DI had to be sitting right next to Wynhausen as he relived that moment.

“I never really expected Regalot to go through with his threat,” Wynhausen said. “But when I went into his tent and stood at attention in front of him, he told me to put my left hand on his field desk. He slowly and dramatically opened the top drawer to reveal the hammer. He took it out and hit my finger five times. As he raised it for the sixth, I pulled my hand away. I’d had enough. He told me to put it back. To his credit, and my relief, he didn’t hit me again.”

The next day, Wynhausen shot a 195.

“Regalot moved on to other problems, having apparently solved mine,” Wynhausen said. “Truth be told, I was just a slow learner. The next day, pre-qualification day, I shot a 213. At 190, you were a Marksman. At 210, you were a Sharpshooter. And at 220 and above, you were an Expert.”

Friday morning was qualification day. Wynhausen, figuring his problem was solved, went out to the qualification course confident he’d make it.

“When the dust settled I’d shot 227, the third highest score for the day,” Wynhausen said. “After everyone finished, Regalot pulled one guy out of the ranks to announce he’d failed to qualify. To humiliate the guy further, Regalot said he should be really ashamed of himself because ‘Even Bilko qualified.’ Then he looked at me and asked what I’d fired. I proudly told him, ‘Sir, 227, sir!’ He said skeptically, ‘Come on Bilke, what did you really fire?’ I emphatically shot back, ‘Sir, 227, sir!’ He turned to one of his assistants and asked, ‘What did Bilko really score?’ He was assured I’d shot 227. The poor guy who’d failed really got an ear full.”

Wynhausen earned a small trophy at boot camp graduation, recognizing him as Third High Expert.

DANGEROUS LIFE AS A CPA? Now a high power CPA by civilian profession, early on working at Arthur Young & Co in Los Angeles, one of the Big 8 public accounting firms, and later becoming a partner in the Seattle office, one wouldn’t think life would get too dangerous.

“The first audit I worked on was at a small independent oil company with their headquarters on the top floor of a five story building on Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills,” Wynhausen said. “Our audit team physically apprehended and subdued a kidnapper who’d tried to forcibly remove a female employee from the office. He came into our work room while running from some men who worked for the company. We dragged him down and subdued him, holding him until the Beverly Hills police arrived. He was a little crazy, and I got the misimpression that auditing was an exciting business.”

In 1983 Wynhausen left the firm and established a private practice doing tax consulting with small CPA and law firms, which he continues today.

Wynhausen settled in here in Bonner County after a year in 2001 of touring the country with his wife in a fifth wheel.

THE POLITICAL LIFE “We got involved in Democratic politics,” Wynhausen said of his early time here in Sandpoint and Clark Fork, where they owned some acreage.

“I learned the futility of Democratic politics as I helped candidates run for office and fail. In 2005, when no one came forward to challenge George Eskridge (the republican representative to the House for District 1B), who had run unopposed in 2004, I decided to run for the Idaho House. I won my first race in the primary of 2006. Of course, I was unopposed. But I got my hat handed to me in the general.”

Wynhausen had little hope of winning, but said he ran to offer voters a choice.

“A funny thing happened to me a few months before I even announced my candidacy. There is a woman by the name of Helen Thompson who lives in retirement at The Bridge here in Sandpoint,” Wynhausen said.

“At the time, my father-in-law was living next door to her. Over time I came to know Helen, and I discovered she and I shared Democratic politics and agreed on most issues. When I made up my mind to run, I told Helen I had exciting news. I was going to run for the Legislature. Her faced lit up. She asked who I was running against. I told her, ‘George Eskridge.’ Immediately the smile disappeared. Her face went flat. I asked what was wrong. She told me, ‘I’ve known George Eskridge all his life, and I have to vote for George.’ Right then and there I knew I’d lose. When a strong Democrat like Helen had to vote for a local boy, I knew there was no chance for a newcomer.”

Wynhausen is on the radio locally now, a Friday show where he plays out the Democratic side in a political debate. The talk show runs on KSPT 1400 AM from 12:10 pm to 1:00 pm.

“Toward the end of the campaign, I got a call from Bill Litsinger wanting to discuss the idea of doing a radio show together. He laughed when I suggested we should wait to see how the election turned out. After all, I might have had to spend three months in Boise,” Wynhausen said.

“Shortly after the election, which I lost 62-38 percent, we got together and began planning what is now the ‘Face to Face’ program every Friday.”

THE FEW, THE PROUD Fortunately for America, most of our military members do come home. They bring with them a wealth of experience from having served in the United States military. Much of what they share is gritty, raw, hard-earned veteran’s comp and pension blood and tears. Even in peace time they bring home anxiety that slowly whittles its way out of their life. You’ll see them. Sometimes they’re panhandling on the street, sometimes they’re the person who built your house. And sometimes, they’re the voice on the radio airwaves. They’re out there. And never, ever forgotten.

FADE OUT

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Author info

Kriss Perras Running Waters Kriss Perras Running Waters is an American female screenwriter, film director and publisher. She is a former Ocean Systems Technician Maintainer for the US Navy, and was the publisher of both PCH Press and the Malibu Arts Journal.

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