Pitkin County honors veterans in Veterans Day ceremony | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County honors veterans in Veterans Day ceremony

Amid a turbulent, divisive week in America, about 125 people came together Friday for one purpose: to honor the lives of the valiant soldiers who sacrificed, served and fought for our country.

In an emotional ceremony at the Roaring Fork Veterans Memorial outside Pitkin County Courthouse, veterans and audience members shared heartfelt stories in memory of fallen soldiers.

As part of the 29-year-old Veterans Day ceremony that local veterans Dick Merritt and Dan Glidden organize, Darryl Grob read the list of soldiers from the Roaring Fork Valley who died at war.

"I've done this for a while, and I was looking for a way to express why we do this roll call," Grob said before an attentive crowd of fellow veterans, families of veterans and civilians showing their support.

After much thought, Grob said he discovered a sentence by British author Sir Terry Pratchett that embodies the significance of the role call.

Quoting Pratchett, he recited: "Do you know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?"

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"This speaks to the emotion felt," Grob said. "(Veterans) are not dead while their names are still spoken."

During the ceremony, Huts for Vets founder Paul Andersen delivered a compelling speech in which he also took the opportunity to raise awareness around what he deemed as both a "national crisis" and a moral issue.

"Something's wrong in America when 20 veterans per day are taking their own lives," Andersen said solemnly.

"Something is wrong when soldiers are released from their service without a sufficient homecoming preparedness that allows them to cope with the moral injuries that many veterans have sustained," he said. "Something is wrong when veterans return to a society that is greatly divided and lacks the cohesion and unity that many veterans discovered as a real strength in the missions they achieved during their service."

In January 2013, Andersen founded Huts for Vets in Aspen as a means of providing therapeutic healing for U.S. veterans and active-duty service members.

By bringing a small group of veterans and service members up to 10th Mountain Division Huts, Andersen explained, Huts for Vets is intended to offer them a unifying experience out in the wilderness at no cost.

In Rachel Richards' earnest address, the county commissioner recognized the vital role veterans play in the community and encouraged everyone in the audience to do their part in supporting veterans.

"Veterans in our community have lent, dedicated their hands, their hearts, their time and skill to a vast number of volunteer efforts," Richards said. "Disciplined, purposeful, principal and committed to the highest ideals of this country. They show us what service means and set an example by their daily actions, supporting the community and lifting up the common good. Lifting us all up through their leadership."

After mentioning some of the nonprofit organizations and programs in the area that assist veterans, Richards said, "We all can do more. And we need to."

"And one of the things I've thought about as we go forward is to make sure we're advocating for the federal budget that appropriately budgets and funds veteran services and services to our active military members," she said. "This is critical that they are treated with the respect and resourced the way they need to be for their safety and their families."

Merritt thanked the audience and, in particular, the younger generation that was present for partaking in the Veterans Day observance.

"It's so important that the young people understand the importance of what veterans do," Merritt said in an interview after the ceremony. "We're trying to make them appreciate the culture and to serve their country in the future — whether it's in military or helping others to make the country stronger. The point is to give."

erobbie@aspentimes.com