Veterans honored on sacred ground

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— Small children whimpered and clung to their mothers' legs as 21 rifle shots were fired to salute war veterans at Monday's Memorial Day service, when newer generations acknowledged the sacrifices of millions of veterans they will never know.

In spite of another swelteringly hot day, dozens of cars lined the drive to Steamboat Spring's Cemetery, and about 100 Routt County residents of all ages bowed their heads in prayer to pay homage to the nation's veterans.

Hundreds of flowers and small flags, scarcely moving in the stillness and heat of the ceremony, marked the graves of Routt County's 231 veterans. Six of the veterans fought in the Civil War; the others fought in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

This year's Memorial Day was a particularly special one because it marked the 25th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, and the 50th anniversary of the Korean War.

Attendants at the memorial service paid special tribute to the soldiers of these two wars, to those who became prisoners of war and those who were declared missing in action.

Twenty veterans of the Korean War are buried in the Steamboat Springs Cemetery, and 21 veterans of the Vietnam War are buried there.

Bill May, who served in the Occupational Forces in Germany after World War II, stood with the aid of crutches through the warm, mid-day service. He just undergone hip surgery and refused to sit, his wife Cynthia said.

"It is a duty and an honor to serve the country," he said. May was born and raised in the valley his father moved here from Iowa to homestead in 1901. "My family has always been a part of this community."

Bill's wife shares his Memorial Day sentiments.

"I have always believed in honoring those who have gone before us," Cynthia said. "And I am so happy to see so many people here. I saw a mother explaining the flags and dying to their young children. It's so good she was doing that, I thought."

Fellow attendee T.J. Sisto agreed.

"So many more (young people) don't know what these things mean than those who do know," he said.

Sisto and his son Cassidy were shaking the hands of veterans. Steamboat children Caitlin Lehmann and Carolyn Chotvacs explained why they attended the service.

"At first I wasn't sure why we had to come, but my dad said we had to. I think my Uncle Frank was in Vietnam. I'm glad we came," Chotvacs said. Frank Chotvacs is buried in the Steamboat Springs Cemetery.

"I just came to pay tribute. To respect the people who fought for freedom," the young Lehmann said. "My dad brought me today, and I'm also glad I came."

World War II veteran Lewis Kemry said it was gratifying to see so many non-veterans at the service.

"I fought in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. It's a good thing we were there or the Germans would've been in England," he said. Kemry has lived within 15 miles of Steamboat for his entire life, other than the three years he spent training in Texas, Oklahoma and serving in France and Austria.

Although the United States is in a time of peace, 22-year-old veteran Noelle Brigden said who joined the Army at 17 and served in Bosnia said there are still people suffering today from times of war. There are sacrifices being made constantly, she said, and it is easy to forget those suffering and sacrificing during peacetime.

Vietnam Navy veteran Mike Arroyo is frustrated that many non-veterans seem to forget about the sacrifices of the men and women in uniform.

"It is not our job to remind the average citizen,"Arroyo said. "We shouldn't have to tell the public anything. What are they teaching in history? People ought to know what we've been through, where we've been. They say ours [Vietnam] was the least popular war "

Vietnam veteran Doug Werner finished Arroyo's sentence:

"But there were 58,000 soldiers killed who thought it was pretty popular," he said. "I'm not sure if any of the younger people these days really understand what happened in WWI, WWII or Vietnam or Korea for that matter."

Memorial Day is a day set aside for Americans to remember what did happen to remember the people and places that are on the minds and in the hearts of veterans 365 days a year.

"I've worn this bracelet every day since Dec. 4, 1968," Werner said, pointing to his wrist.

Werner, who was born and raised in Steamboat Springs, was 19 when he was drafted in May of '68. "After I first shot a man with my rifle, I was violently sick. My lieutenant gave (the bracelet) to me to remember what that felt like, if I'm ever feeling tough. 'When you get back to the world,' he said to me, 'and maybe want to start a fight or something, remember this.' That's what he told me. And he was killed too so I also wear it to remember him."

To reach Bonnie Nadzam call 871-4205 or e-mail bnadzam@amigo.net

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