Aspen honors its veterans with ceremony, salutations |

Aspen honors its veterans with ceremony, salutations

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen paid tribute to its veterans – the men and women who returned from war and those who did not – with a pair of Memorial Day observances on Monday.

In a scene of small-town Americana played out across the country yesterday, the young and old of Aspen gathered in the shaded, lush grass next to the county courthouse to pray, sing and honor the soldiers most dear to their hearts. Some held red carnations that were distributed to the crowd.

At the noon ceremony, centered around the Vietnam Veterans Memorial marker in the courthouse lawn, Aspen remembered its own, lost fighting a nation’s battles, and saluted the survivors of those wars. A handful of old men, the gray-haired veterans of World War II, were joined around the memorial by the incrementally younger faces of those who fought in Korea, Vietnam and more recent conflicts.

“Look at these faces. What do you see in these faces? They’re our history,” said Dan Glidden, a Vietnam vet and local police officer who led the proceedings. “Remember them. Honor them.”

“War is something that no one really supports,” said county Commissioner Jack Hatfield, who read a Memorial Day proclamation. “It’s not about whether you support the policies of your national government. We all support our soldiers – the men and women who have participated in these wars.”

On a perfect day, the breeze unfurled the Stars and Stripes, and the scent of crab-apple blossoms lingered in the air along with the clear, simple strains of “Taps.”

“I have found those who pray the hardest and most intensely for peace are those who actually fought,” offered Father Michael O’Brien in his benediction.

After the traditional picnic, featuring burgers and bratwurst in Conner Memorial Park, courtesy of the Aspen Elks Lodge, Aspenites turned out a second time to pay their respects with the rededication of the city’s Ute Cemetery.

The graves of 37 Civil War veterans were decorated with carnations and small flags for the first time in decades during an observance marking the restoration of the city’s first cemetery, founded in 1880.

The veterans rest in formation on a hillside in the burial ground – former members of the Union Army who came to Aspen to seek their fortune in the silver boom and died here.

“For too long, this area has been neglected and forgotten,” said Elks member Brian O’Neil of the veterans’ graves. “This is no longer the case. Today, we have recognized this omission and have paid a long-overdue debt.

“Our duty today and in the future is to preserve this resting place to honor their memories as participants in the greatest struggle in American history,” he said. “Let them ever remind us of that price one has to pay for freedom.”

The Civil War veterans are among some 200 early Aspenites buried at the cemetery, which had been the focus of a recently completed restoration effort after years of neglect. Decay, unchecked vegetation and vandalism had damaged headstones and obscured gravesites. Some stones were simply stolen, but one has been returned.

Yesterday morning, the marble marker for John S. Adair was discovered near the cemetery entrance, where it had been deposited next to one of two newly placed granite markers that denote the names of individuals buried in the cemetery, including those in unmarked graves.

Adair, who died on July 22, 1888, at age 33, is listed simply as J.S.A. on one of the markers at the entrance. The initials were all historians had to work with when the new memorial stones were engraved – the initials appear on a footstone inside the cemetery. The headstone will be returned to its rightful place over Adair’s grave.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing for our dedication here today that one has come back to us,” said Amy Guthrie, the city’s historic preservation planner.

Following the brief ceremony, which included the reading of a City Council proclamation to recognize the rededication, attendees were invited to wander the newly constructed paths that wind among the haphazardly placed graves. Headstones have been cleaned and repaired, and overgrowth cleared away.

Although volunteers trimmed the vegetation last summer, the cemetery remains unmanicured, with tall grasses, groves of aspens and a proliferation of blooming phlox, larkspur and Oregon grape dotting the grounds.

The city’s restoration work created controversy last year, though, when citizens voiced fear that the improvements would compromise the area’s solitude and unkempt beauty. But one of those doubters, former City Councilwoman Georgeann Waggaman, praised the outcome yesterday.

“I am very, very pleased. I think they’ve done a wonderfully delicate job of it,” she said. “I congratulate the city.”

The clearings of underbrush have resulted in an unusual abundance of wildflowers and have uncovered treasurers that even Waggaman, a regular visitor, had never seen before.

“For all the times I’ve been in here, I’ve discovered things I never saw,” she said.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is]

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