ASPEN - More than 70 people ignored bitterly cold weather and an 11 a.m. Denver Broncos start to stand for a Veterans Day ceremony at the Roaring Fork Veterans Memorial near the Pitkin County Courthouse on Sunday.
They showed up to recognize former members of the nation's armed forces who fought for the freedoms Americans enjoy today. Aspen veterans from the World War I era all the way up to recent conflicts in Iran and Afghanistan were honored.
Dan Glidden, a Vietnam vet and co-organizer of the ceremony, said the purpose of the event was twofold.
"We come here to remember and honor our fallen - they are in our hearts always, and we'll never forget them - but we also come to show our appreciation and our gratitude for veterans who have served and are now serving to this day," he said. "Keep them in your mind."
Glidden credited the crowd for skipping the early NFL football games and Sunday shopping excursions to pay tribute to veterans of many different eras.
"You get it," he told the audience. "You are proof that the Veterans Day tradition is alive and well."
Several local participants helped to make the occasion special. Ian Murtagh, a seventh-grader at Aspen Middle School, presented the memorial wreath. Rollin Simmons and Jeannie Walla sang "God Bless America." Richard Sundeen played taps on his trumpet.
Co-organizer Dick Merritt pointed out that Aspen native Jeremie Oates, a former U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, was in the crowd, and listeners provided a round of applause. Oates recently served in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Bosnia, holding the role of special operations commander for some of that time.
"I saw him at Christmastime, and he had a big black beard, and I thought he was one of the Pakistanis or something, but welcome home," Merritt said.
Aspen Times columnist Paul Andersen spoke for a few minutes about the need to assist returning veterans with medical and mental-health issues. He noted that his background probably differed from most of those participating in Sunday's event.
"I'm a child of the Vietnam era; I protested the war when I was in my teens and 20s," he said. "That was 40 years ago."
Andersen talked of the most recently returned veterans and their difficulties in adjusting to civilian life. Many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
During brief remarks, he brought attention to Purple Star, a sister organization to other support groups for veterans' families such as the Blue Star Mothers and Gold Star Mothers. A petition - details are available at www.purplestarfamilies.org - is calling on the federal government to implement a "homecoming-preparedness training program" for veterans and their families, employers and caregivers.
Andersen said nature helps to bring solace to his own life. He said he is exploring the idea of starting a therapeutic program called Huts for Vets, which would take veterans to the famous 10th Mountain Division huts in the Colorado backcountry.
"My idea is to put together a seminar experience in nature, in wilderness, at the mountain huts, and see if I can offer some means of healing," he said. "The best I can do is try to help veterans who have been affected by war."
Darryl Grob, one of the event's supporters, read a list of "Aspen boys killed in action." The names included Peter F. Galligan, who died in World War I; Julio L. Caparrella, Thomas R. McNeil and Joseph W. Mogan, who died in World War II; James Bionaz, who died in Korea; and Edward K. Marsh and William L. Sanderson, who died in Vietnam.
Glidden mentioned that he and others on Friday went to visit an ailing Aspenite, Jim Hayes, 92, and presented him with a plaque thanking him for his Army service during World War II.
"Jim got tears in his eyes and said, 'This is the first time anyone has ever thanked me for my military service.' That hits home," Glidden said.
With assistance from Basalt-based Hospice of the Valley, Glidden's group visited other veterans last week and recognized them in similar fashion.