Veterans pay their respects
At times it looked as if 200 faces were on the verge of breaking.
Some bit their lips to hold back the flood of tears.
Others hid their grief behind their sunglasses.
More than once, a grisley-faced veteran could be seen wiping a tear off his cheek, as the weight of the ceremony and his memories bore down.
The annual Memorial Day celebration in Aspen drew one of the largest crowds in memory, despite the cold weather, with at least 200 people showing up at the Veterans Memorial Park next to the Pitkin County Courthouse.
Led by retired Lt. Colonel Dick Merritt, veterans marched in with flags, laid a memorial wreath and spent the better part of an hour honoring fallen soldiers with roots in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley all the way back to World War I.
Aspenite Peter F. Galligan died in battle on Nov. 4, 1918, just two weeks before the Great War ended. Other men from the Roaring Fork Valley killed in action include Aspenites Julio L. Caparrella, Thomas R. McNeil and Joseph W. Mogan, who died in World War II; James Bionaz, who died in the Korean War; and Aspenites Edward Kettering Marsh, William Sanderson and Danny Schartz, Basaltine Billy Clark and Glenwood Springs residents Charles Adkins, Michael Gonzalez and Larry Keenann, all of whom died fighting in Vietnam.
The names of the latter four were added to the ceremony last week, after they were found on the traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans memorial during its stop in Aspen.
One Vietnam veteran stood up and told why he thinks every day about his good friend and comrade in arms who died in action. “If it wasn’t for him, I’d be buried in my family plot in Nebraska.”
War by war, the veterans stepped up next to the candle burning atop the memorial stone and introduced themselves. Eight veterans of World War II introduced themselves, as did five from the Korean War and 19 from the Vietnam War. One veteran of the police actions of the late 1990s also stood up and introduced himself.
Marking a change for years past, there was a decidedly political tone to some of the comments made at the celebration this year. More than one veteran expressed his concern for the soldiers in Iraq and the problems that America’s political leadership has created for them.
Dan Glidden was the most outspoken, railing against the scandal-plagued military in Iraq that he said he hardly recognizes. He was especially critical of the leaders who put the country and its military into crisis in Iraq. And he praised the veterans assembled in Aspen yesterday as the members of the Army he knows.
Speaking after the ceremony, Merritt said, “What Dan said reflects a lot of what veterans feel.”
He noted that the politics behind the situation in Iraq are beginning to remind him of the political debacle that took the nation to war in Vietnam.
One thing that rankles Merritt is the broken promise that occurs almost daily in Iraq.
He told the story of a sergeant whose plane home was stopped on the runway in Iraq. An officer told the soldiers on board that they weren’t going home; their tour of duty was being extended three months. Three days later the sergeant was dead.
“In Vietnam, if you were given a one-year tour of duty, it was one year,” Merritt said. “They’d pull you out of the middle of combat if your tour was up. That’s not what’s happening in Iraq.”
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I try to remember to give thanks every day I spend outside, whether it be floating the Colorado or Roaring Fork, fishing an epic dry fly hatch on the Fryingpan, or teasing up tiny brook trout on a remote lake or stream. We’re spoiled rotten here, so it’s easy to be thankful.