Memorial Day ceremony in Steamboat Springs honors sacrifice | SteamboatToday.com

Memorial Day ceremony in Steamboat Springs honors sacrifice

Valerie Bussey plays taps Monday during the Memorial Day ceremony in Steamboat Springs.

— As he prepared to march in another Memorial Day ceremony at the Steamboat Springs Cemetery on Monday, Dennis Fisher reached into the pocket of his crisp white dress shirt and pulled out an old medal.

"This is what’s on my mind," the Army veteran said as he held up the French Croix de guerre his grandfather was awarded for his service as an Army translator in World War I. "I’m remembering all he did to make this the nation of the free."

He paused, then completed a phrase that he said often is on his mind on this day.

This is a nation of the free because of the brave.

Fisher slipped the medal back into his pocket, and his candid conversation ended as soon as the Honor Guard was beckoned to start the service.

The members of the guard then grew serious and gathered in a perfect line.

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They marched in a disciplined rhythm that would carry the nearly hourlong ceremony.

Monday was a day to remember the old medals and the stories they held.

It was a day to walk among the many headstones at the cemetery adorned with American flags and realize that the people buried there served his or her country, often with great sacrifice.

It was a day to remember simple phrases that are deep in meaning.

"Because of them, our lives are free," Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4264 Cmdr. Tony Weiss said at the start of the ceremony.

A large crowd stood behind him on a hill, ready to honor the many soldiers who were buried around them.

The Memorial Day event takes on a different theme every year as it pays special tribute to a group of veterans.

Last year, Vietnam veterans were recognized, including two young men who were killed in combat.

This year, the ceremony paid tribute to Korean War veterans and commemorated the 60th anniversary of the cease-fire of that conflict.

During a roll call of these veterans, the names of three men, Ben Ehle Jr., Frank Finch and Leonard Officer, were met with silence.

These were the three soldiers who lost their lives in the war.

Although it was hard to tell from their silence, the veterans were deeply affected by the roll call.

"It’s very emotional when they do the MIA roll call," Army veteran Fred Sandelin said.

After the Boy Scouts, Civil Air Patrol cadets and members of the American Legion Post 44 and VFW had finished the ceremony, Vikki Franz had many things to remember on this day.

Before the gathering, she walked up to Routt County Veterans Officer Mike Condie and thanked him for his recent efforts to recover the military records of her late father, Don Lufkin.

Then, as she walked among the graves, Franz recalled the last day she spent with John Vialpando, who was a schoolmate of her’s.

Vialpando was one of two Routt County soldiers killed in combat in Vietnam.

"Right before he left, we all dragged down Lincoln," Franz said as she reminisced about a time in Steamboat when young boys and girls sped along the road in hot cars, before the fun was prohibited by the arrival of stop lights. "We all said farewells at the time, but we didn’t know they would be final. John was a young man who went and did his duty. He left us far too soon."

Monday’s ceremony was a time to recall these stories with friends, and to remember the sacrifice of young women and men like John.

The ceremony also is something many promise never to miss.

Lewis Kemry, a 93-year-old World War II veteran, was there.

He used to partake in the ceremony as recently as a few years ago, before it got physically harder to do.

As he pointed to his knees, he said he misses the times he would take part in ceremony.

Now, he’s content watching it as a distinguished member of the audience.

"I don’t try to get clear out of it," he said.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

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