Aspen’s Memorial Day ceremony remembers the fallen, honors veterans
Scaled-down ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park maintains “spirit” of holiday
Turnout was stronger than expected Monday for a pared-down Memorial Day service at the Pitkin County Veterans Memorial Park in Pitkin County, organizer and Marine Veteran Lt. Col. Dick Merritt said.
“The spirit was there,” Merritt said. The laying of a memorial wreath, a reading of the poem “In Flanders Fields,” a remembrance of fallen Roaring Fork Valley residents, a few speeches and a performance of “Taps” by Dick Sundeen comprised the entire 15-minute ceremony.
“I’m very happy to honor them,” Sundeen said. “These people risked their lives; I just show up with the horn.”
Merritt sees the success of the small-scale Memorial Day ceremony that he co-led with Dan Glidden as progress toward hopefully hosting a full-fledged Veterans Day event in September.
The Memorial Day ceremony honored those killed in action as well as veterans who died after service, like Army vet and longtime Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk ski instructor Pepper Gomes, who died in 2017. Pepper’s wife, Susan Gomes, said in an interview events like these can help people heal from loss.
“It’s always hard to do this. … It doesn’t get easier every year. I think you just learn to manage it,” she said during a brief speech at the event.
Missy Danaher echoed the sentiment.
“I think it does everyone good,” Danaher said. It was her first time at the Memorial Day event, where she remembered her father, Navy veteran William A. Roth.
Every year, Memorial Day ceremony officiants remember the following Roaring Fork Valley residents who were killed in action:
World War I: Peter F. Galligan (Aspen)
World War II: Julio L. Caparella (Aspen), Thomas R. McNeil (Aspen), Joseph W. Morgan (Aspen)
Korea: James Bionaz (Aspen)
Vietnam: Edward Kettering Marsh (Aspen), William Leonard Sanderson (Aspen), Danny Gilbert Schwartz (Aspen), Billy Floyd Clark (Basalt), Charles Leland Adkins (Glenwood Springs), Michael Filbert Gonzales (Glenwood Springs), Larry Russell Kennann (Glenwood Springs), James Richard Smith (Rifle), Thomas Lynn Griffee (Rifle)
Middle East: William H. Dubois (New Castle)
The sense of connection and community can help veterans who participate in the ceremonies year after year, too.
“It’s what we do. We all are brothers and sisters; (we) pay respects to the fallen,” said Gunny Perigo, a Vietnam veteran who laid the memorial wreath as part of the Color Guard at the event, just as he has every year since 1987.
Events like Monday’s ceremony and Veterans Day programming in September help create a support system of kindred spirits, Perigo said. He and many of his fellow Vietnam veterans kept to themselves after returning given the less-than-welcoming stateside attitudes toward the war, he said; it took years before he felt ready to show up in 1987, but when he did, he found a community he did not realize existed in Aspen.
“I saw guys there that I had known for a decade that I didn’t know had served,” Perigo said. “It was refreshing.”
As Perigo and his fellow servicemen grow older, he hopes to see “a new crop of young vets” at events like the Memorial Day ceremony to carry on the honors. Merritt feels the same way.
“This turnout has been very rewarding considering the conditions we had to do this,” Merritt noted during the ceremony. “We just didn’t have the Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts — half our honor guard is in the hospital, and we’re aging out, so we’re hoping that the younger veterans will come up and help lead these ceremonies.”
Continuing the tradition keeps the memory alive, too.
“Thankfully we’ve stood the test of time, persevered,” Perigo said.