Fireworks extra bright for Summit boy, Marine pen pal |

Fireworks extra bright for Summit boy, Marine pen pal

ROBERT ALLENsummit daily news
Summit Daily/Leisa Gibson

DILLON – Clad in military fatigues, Jacob Poehls stood proudly next to his active U.S. Marine pen pal at Dillon Amphitheatre Friday evening as the two accepted American flags from U.S. Congressman Jared Polis. The meeting was part of the town’s “Never Forget: An Evening of Tribute” event, which culminated with a performance by the Air Force Academy Band and a fireworks show.Sgt. Baltazar Pineda, 35, was serving in Iraq along the Syrian border last fall when he and Jacob, 9, began a friendship that led to a February video conference on NBC’s Today Show – and this week’s much-anticipated visit. The flags they received have flown at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.”I would like to thank Jacob for the difference he made” with his classmates for soldiers and “children in Iraq,” Polis said, thanking Pineda for his Marine service.The audience – a shining sea of red, white and blue – responded with applause. Jacob, whose academic struggles at Summit Cove Elementary lessened as he began exchanging letters with Pineda, said he could barely contain himself as he waited on Wednesday at Denver International Airport.”I was really excited,” Jacob said. “It was like I was going to explode.”Pineda – who returned to his home in San Diego four months ago – said Friday that Jacob and his classmates’ CARE packages truly affected the Iraqis, many of whom don’t even have the luxury of running water.”The kids – they want toys and stuff just like kids here,” he said, adding that it helped improve relations with the Iraqi villagers. “It’s definitely helped us work better with them.”Pineda flew to Colorado with his wife, Jennifer, and daughters Briana, 8, and Iliana, 3. A home in Keystone Ranch was donated for the family’s visit, which ends Sunday.Jacob’s and Pineda’s families have taken a ride on the Georgetown Loop Railroad, eaten dinner at the top of the Keystone Resort gondola and plan to be at today’s Fourth of July parade in Frisco – where Pineda is to ride in front of the Boy Scouts. Nora Hall, Jacob’s mother, said that as they waited for the Pinedas at the airport, she may have been more nervous than her son. But the families quickly “clicked.””It was easier than I ever thought it would be,” Hall said. Pineda said he and his family have had a good time and are looking forward to showing their Summit County friends around California next month. Hall said she and Jacob had the trip to San Diego planned even before they even knew the Pinedas lived there.Pineda has been a Marine for nearly 18 years. He said he joined with a “desire to improve myself.””We didn’t have a lot of money growing up,” he said. “I liked what the Marines had to offer.”He said mail call is a “big part of the day” when serving overseas in a remote location.”It was a small group of us. We didn’t see a lot of different faces,” he said.Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or

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