Members of veterans organizations hope more valley residents than ever will rediscover the true meaning of Memorial Day this weekend and take part in ceremonies honoring military veterans who have defended America's freedom.
"It used to be a small-town tradition, to decorate the graves on Memorial Day," local veteran Jim Stanko said. "It's been kind of transformed by fishing and camping."
Stanko is a former commander and current chaplain and historian for American Legion Leo Hill Post 44 and the American Legion Auxiliary. The local American Legion post is organizing this weekend's ceremonies with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Schubring/
Cruse Post 4264.
VFW Commander Gar Williams said Memorial Day is a time to honor current members of the military as well as to honor veterans who have died.
"Ty Upson, a Marine reservist and a member of Post 44, was called to active duty in late February," he said. "Other sons and daughters of Routt County families are serving on ships all over the world and in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is a time to show respect for what they are doing for our country."
The traditional observances begin today, with auxiliary members passing out poppies for donations in front of Safeway and City Market. The poppy tradition dates back to the post-World War I era. The blossoms symbolize the blood shed by those who fought around Flanders, Belgium. Donations support the auxiliary's activities.
Veterans of both posts along with members of Boy Scout Troop 194 will place flags on the graves of veterans buried in the Steamboat Springs Cemetery beginning at 5:30 p.m. today.
The official Memorial Day ceremony will begin promptly at 11 a.m. Monday at the flag pole in the Steamboat Springs Cemetery.
The service will be conducted by the VFW and VFW Auxiliary, Boy Scouts and cadets from the Civil Air Patrol squadron. State Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, a Navy veteran, will speak. Rowan McQuarrie will play a traditional bagpipe solo as the flag is lowered to half staff by the Boy Scouts. Military honors will be rendered by a rifle squad.
Stanko said the veterans groups are eager to honor veterans who have died but are not buried in the local cemetery. Anyone who would like to have the name of a family member read during Monday's ceremony may call him at 879-3936 or Williams at 879-3732 before Monday morning.
Veterans affairs officer Michael Condie said Memorial Day is an important occasion.
"Things like this need to happen to remind people where they live and why they live where they live," Condie said.
People attending Monday's service are asked to arrive early and park at the Stockbridge Transportation Center. Parking at the Steamboat Springs Cemetery, situated on a hill above U.S. 40 just west of downtown, is limited.
A city bus will offer a free ride up the hill to the cemetery at 10:40 a.m., and return 10 minutes after the service ends.
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