Locals celebrate Marine Corps, commit to serving after service
VETERANS DAY EVENTS
VETERANS DAY CEREMONY
What: A ceremony commemorating U.S. veterans and their service through candle lighting and flag folding ceremonies, performances and speeches by local officials. Open to the public.
When: 11 a.m. Monday
Where: Veterans Memorial Park, adjacent to the Pitkin County Courthouse
ANNUAL VETERANS DAY LUNCH
What: The annual Aspen Elks luncheon for Veterans Day Ceremony attendees.
When: Monday, after the Veterans Day Ceremony
Where: Aspen Elks Lodge, 510 E. Hyman Ave.
Aspen-area locals gathered at the Aspen Grove Cemetery on Sunday to celebrate the United States Marine Corps’ 244th birthday.
With Aspen trees as a backdrop and a tall flag pole displaying both the country and Marine Corps colors as an anchor, the former military officers and their friends and families both commemorated the past and looked to continue tradition.
“The Marine Corps was founded in 1775 and since then it’s been tradition to honor the Marine Corps spirit,” said Dick Merritt, who was a lieutenant colonel and served 22 years as a Marine. “We plan to continue our tradition as long as we can.”
According to Merritt, Aspen-area Marine veterans and their families have been making their way up to the Aspen Grove Cemetery to celebrate Nov. 10 for more than 14 years.
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Roughly a dozen military veterans are buried in the cemetery, whose names were read during Sunday’s celebration, and the centralized flagpole serves as a good common meeting place, Merritt said.
“Someday we’ll all be buried here and the younger people will carry this on. It’s a sustainable tradition,” Merritt said.
On Sunday, the local birthday celebration felt more like a family reunion than an official ceremony. Each person shared the details of their military service or affiliation with the Marine Corps and ate sheet cake before making their way to the Red Onion for lunch.
Some of the Marines helped perform a traditional flag-folding ceremony, some helped read written statements issued by past and present commandants, most participated in a raffle to raise money for an expansion of the Western Slope Veterans Coalition facility in Glenwood Springs.
But two women broke from local tradition, attending the Aspen celebration and sharing their stories with attendees for the first time.
Those women were Kirstie Ennis, a Marine forced into retirement in 2014 after a helicopter crash left her severely injured while serving in Afghanistan, and her mom, Cathie, who also is a Marine veteran.
“I’ve always considered myself lucky to have been raised by people who I thought were superheroes,” Kirstie said of her parents, both Marines, to the Sunday crowd. “My active service as a Marine was the proudest chapter of my life.”
But for Kirstie, who lives in Glenwood Springs with Cathie, her service isn’t over.
After undergoing over a dozen surgeries, including the amputation of her left leg above the knee, the Marine has dedicated herself to raising money for nonprofits that improve the lives of veterans and the adaptive community by taking on extreme endurance feats.
So far, Kirstie has climbed four of the seven continents’ tallest peaks and is planning to complete the World Marathon Challenge, or seven marathons on seven continents in seven days; mountain bike along the Great Divide trail that stretches more than 3,000 miles from Canada to Mexico; and to swim over 20 miles across the English Channel.
She said her first climb in 2017 raised $150,000, and she has expanded her service efforts to include recycling prosthetics and bringing them from the United States to those in need in other parts of the world.
“What it comes down to is I want to go out and do the things people aren’t doing and show the younger generations it’s the 6 inches between your ears and behind your ribcage that determine what you are capable of,” Kirstie said.
In July, Kirstie received the Pat Tillman Award for Service, named after the former NFL safety and U.S. Army Ranger who died during active service in Afghanistan after he returned to the military following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
She said it felt weird to be honored for helping other people because that’s what she’s most passionate about, but that it signifies to her that she’s on the right path.
“It’s unique that at 28 years old I feel like I have found my purpose twice in life,” Kirstie said.
In May 2020, Kirstie plans to climb Denali, the highest peak in North America, but wants to enjoy snowboarding in the valley this winter and get more involved in local efforts to support and serve veterans.
“It’s important to get everyone together for stuff like this,” Kirstie said of the Aspen Marine Corps birthday celebration. “Even though we’re out, we still have to withhold the commitment to the men and women that stood to our left and our right. Just because we all don’t wear a uniform anymore doesn’t mean that we’re alone.”
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The Aspen City Council directed staff to work with restaurants and retail shops to find out how much interest there is in expanding into the public right-of-way. Use of interior space will be limited for an unknown time so businesses will be given the opportunity to use public right-of-way.