Solemn Aspen ceremony pays tribute to fallen soldiers
May 29, 2012
ASPEN – The Memorial Day ceremony in Aspen on Monday was a solemn occasion with scheduled speakers and audience participants paying tribute not only to soldiers who gave their lives in defense of the nation but also to those who returned home from U.S. wars and were never quite the same.
Carbondale resident John Henry Parker, a former Marine and co-founder of Purple Star Veterans and Families, spoke of his son, Sgt. Danny Facto, and the troubles Facto encountered following two tours of duty with the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan.
Facto died in July 2009 in a motorcycle accident. Many war veterans die from accidents following the difficult adjustment period upon returning home from combat, Parker said. Others take their own lives in a more direct way – an Army Times report notes that a U.S. veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes, which amounts to 6,570 such deaths per year.
Parker, a third-generation veteran, told the crowd of more than 150 that Americans need to work together to improve the safety net for soldiers seeking a smoother transition from military to civilian life.
“I got together with a small group of families and talked about what could we do that would help honor veterans and their families through the trials of homecoming but also for the families of veterans who aren’t surviving homecoming,” he said. “More veterans die every year from suicide than have been killed in combat since 9/11. It is statistically devastating.”
Parker described Purple Star as a sister organization to other support groups for veterans’ families such as the Blue Star Mothers and Gold Star Mothers. He has started a petition – details are available at http://www.purplestarfamilies.org – that calls on the federal government to implement a “homecoming preparedness training program” for veterans and their families, employers and caregivers.
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“By the time a veteran gets home to our doorstep, it’s too late for a lot of them because they’re trained not to ask for help,” he said. “We could do better. A little orientation video about civilian life doesn’t exactly cut it.”
The organizers of the event, which was held in the Roaring Fork Veterans Memorial area next to the Pitkin County Courthouse, honored Aspenite Kurt Bresnitz, 94, by asking him to place a wreath next to the Vietnam memorial that served as a speaker’s podium.
Bresnitz is an Austrian-born Jew who, in an effort to escape Nazi persecution, left Europe for America in 1938, a few years before the U.S. entered the war. He later joined the U.S. Army, participated in the Battle of the Bulge and was among the troops who liberated the Dachau concentration camp.
“I hate to confess that I’m still fighting the battle of the bulge,” Bresnitz joked in reference to his waistline.
Many of Bresnitz’ relatives and friends died in the death camps. After the war, he extended an olive branch to his former enemy and assisted German veterans who couldn’t find their loved ones – Allied forces had devastated Germany because Adolf Hitler was determined to carry the fight to a gruesome end.
“I’m 94 years old, I’m a survivor, and I’ve seen a lot of bloodshed,” he said. “I owe a lot to all the American Army. The number of those who survived is getting less and less. War is a horrible thing, and World War II was supposed to be the war to end all wars. But unfortunately, we’ve had nothing but war ever since. I hope that in the future we can have peace and understanding in this world.”
The Rev. Jonathan Brice, rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Aspen, provided the invocation for the ceremony. He also talked about his father, who served in the Royal Air Force and who later allowed his young son to play with his flier’s cap.
Brice quoted from a World War I poem written by a Canadian lieutenant colonel named John McCrae called “In Flanders Fields.” McCrae was inspired to write the poem after a friend and fellow soldier died in battle.
“Flanders Fields was a place (in France) where the trenches were, where the most embittered battles took place,” Brice said. “Poppies have grown up and have just taken over the wheat fields, and it’s an amazing thing to see, to look at. If you ever get a chance, please do go there and pay your respect to the fallen, but also look at those poppies and realize that they represent the people that gave their lives for each one of us standing here today.”
Part of the poem reads as follows: “We are the Dead. Short days ago/We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow/Loved and were loved, and now we lie/In Flanders fields.”