Steamboat Springs Even as they remember fallen comrades today and Monday, local veterans are wondering whether patriotism and the importance of Memorial Day is fading with every new generation of Americans.
"So many of the young people don't know what it's all about," World War II veteran Lewis Kemry said. "It took a chunk out of a fella's life to get into a war."
"It all boils down to patriotism," long-time Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars member Pat McClelland added.
Memorial Day is a time for citizens in our country to recognize veterans who have passed away, many of whom died fighting in the name of the United States. There are 231 veterans buried at Steamboat Springs Cemetery.
"It's important. Men and women made a pretty tremendous sacrifice," Legion Commander Jim Stanko said. "They left a pretty serene place in the Yampa Valley to make it what it is today."
The veterans worry that with the last of the nation's major wars having ended at least 25 years ago, younger generations may be growing up without the deeply felt patriotism that those wars produced.
"The way I describe it is that each generation has its own definition of patriotism," McClelland said. "That patriotism is formed by the environment they grow up in."
In 1971, when McClelland was a young man and most of his friends were in Vietnam, he was sent to Korea.
When the soldiers returned home from fighting overseas, they faced the hostility of their fellow Americans, he said.
"The experience was so dramatic," McClelland said. "It really affected a lot of guys."
McClelland said he had three friends from Routt County who survived Vietnam but lost the battle when they came home, dying either of alcoholism or suicide, because of the mental anguish of the war.
Fighting in those conflicts, at home and abroad, are what defined patriotism for McClelland's generation.
"My dad's generation had a whole different definition of patriotism," he said.
Kemry went to Europe in 1944 with the 42nd Rainbow Division of the Army and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
Though his father didn't fight in a war, patriotism was strong in his family.
"On Declaration Day, we'd polish up the car and went to the cemetery," he said.
At that time, there were a few Civil War veterans living in the Yampa Valley. Kemry remembers going to the funeral of one of those men.
"Hundreds of people from miles around came to the funeral," he said.
Not as many people recognize the veterans as they used to, Kemry said.
"I guess it's just apathy," he said.
Memorial Day used to be a somber holiday when most people would visit the cemetery to pay their respects to those who fought for their freedom. Now, it's more likely that the morning off from work is used for fishing, Legion Commander Stanko said.
What many veterans fear is that the hard work and lives that were sacrified to protect our freedoms will be forgotten by future generations, and our rights as Americans will be taken for granted.
"We have a different society and the younger generation has a lot more amenities than they did in the old days," McClelland said. "That's a good thing But maybe they're losing some of the basis of what the country was made from."
Kemry hopes that the younger members of the American Legion and the VFW organizations will be able to instill the memory of all the veterans in the uneducated public.
"The World War II boys we're getting where we're about past carrying that stuff. The younger men will have to keep it alive," Kemry said.
But interest in war veterans is higher than it has been in a long time.
In the last couple of years, the attendance at the Memorial Day ceremony in Steamboat has been better recently, Stanko said.
For many veterans, the scars of war have healed and they are able to open up and talk about their experiences.
"It's only now that a lot of those vets are settled down enough that they can talk about it," McClelland said.
Hollywood is helping to tell some of those stories in a way that younger generations pay attention to and learn from.
McClelland recalls the consternation of his youngest son after seeing the graphic portrayal of World War II in "Saving Private Ryan."
"That's really what happened," he recalled telling his son.
This year, Memorial Day marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War and the 25th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam war.
Twenty-one Korean vets and 23 Vietnam vets are buried in the Steamboat Springs cemetery. Their names will be read during a ceremony on Monday in tribute to their sacrifice.
To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206 or e-mail email@example.com