Aspen honors its veterans | AspenTimes.com

Aspen honors its veterans

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Retired USMC Lt. Colonel Richard Merritt reads the Roll Call of the Aspenites killed in action from WW1 to the Viet-nam war during Memorial Day tributes at the Veteran's Memorial next to the Pitkin County Courthouse Monday afternoon May 27, 2002. Paul Conrad photo.

How do you thank a war veteran for his contributions to his country? For risking – or, as is sometimes the case, giving – his life in the line of duty?

Aspen resident Dan Glidden remarked Monday that this could be the most difficult aspect of any Memorial Day service – adequately conveying gratitude for those who were called to serve the military during times of war.

“How do you thank them for the pain, the hurt, the love … the emotions that everyone has given?” Glidden asked.

A little over 100 people attempted to show their thanks Monday during a citywide Memorial Day service. Observance of the holiday began at 9 a.m. with a new Aspen tradition – the honoring of a small band of local heroes during a small gathering at the Silver Queen Gondola plaza.

Four honorees – members of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division – turned out for the ceremony and were able to share a few of their stories. One veteran described winter training marches that took troops from their base of operations, the now-defunct Camp Hale outside of Leadville, and into Aspen – a hike that sent the troops over 40 miles of mountain terrain.

Lugging a 90-pound pack through a few feet of snow in the dead of winter proved difficult for some.

Recommended Stories For You

“I was 118 pounds,” said former soldier Gino Hollander. “But you’re young and a little stupid, I guess, so away we’d go.”

After a brief interfaith service at the Aspen Community Church, holiday observers reconvened at the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial near the Pitkin County Courthouse. There, holiday observers honored those whose names have been added to the “Aspen roll call” – a list of the local men who have died in combat. Seven men were named as casualties of wars, giving their lives in conflicts from World War I to Vietnam.

Once Aspen’s heroes were honored, ceremony attendees were invited to share the names of others who have fought abroad. Brianna Morris, 10, a Girl Scout who helped decorate veterans’ graves earlier Monday, thanked both of her grandfathers for their efforts.

“Memorial Day is sort of a symbol of our freedom, in a way,” she said after the ceremony. “This is a time to remember all those people who died to make their friends and family free.”

A special tribute was added to this year’s Memorial Day observance to honor those who were lost on Sept. 11. Rev. Richard Lyon read an essay penned by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a brief eulogy for the civilians and would-be rescuers who were lost during the terrorist attacks.

U.S. Marine Corps veteran Howie Berg, another Memorial Day organizer, estimated that a good portion of Monday’s crowd had found a new reason to recognize the holiday after Sept. 11.

“Most of the people you saw were either veterans or had family or friends [who served], but some were not even veterans,” he said. “Some were from New York. A lot of the community lost people in New York, so it kind of ties in.”

Once Aspen resident Richard Sundeen closed the ceremony with his rendition of the Buglers’ Taps, and Boy Scout Troop No. 242 from Basalt and Girl Scout Troop No. 257 of Aspen had retired both the American and Prisoner of War/Missing in Action flags, veterans and their families still lingered around the city’s Vietnam Memorial to share their stories.

Snowmass resident Hugh Roberts, a Vietnam veteran who spent two years with the Army’s 309th Fighter Squadron, was one of many who stepped forward Monday to remember those lost in combat. Roberts spoke briefly, and occasionally tearfully, to the crowd about a friend who died while saving his life.

“I tried to forget about the war for a long time, but it didn’t work, so now I remember it,” he said. “For a lot of people, Memorial Day is a time to go fishing and camping. I used to do that, too – I never paid attention. [I started] just thinking about things, and the reason that we’re here – the reason I’m here – is because of what someone did over there.”