A loud blast tore through the quiet of the Steamboat Springs Cemetery on Monday morning as the rifle squad of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars began a 21-gun salute.
The shots echoed through the valley. The crowd was so silent that its members could hear the sound of a bullet casing hitting the ground.
A young boy in the front row of spectators whispered to his mom, "Why are they doing that?"
She put her arm around him and it took her a second to answer. There was a lot to explain and almost too much for a little boy to understand about the ever-lengthening list of wars that American soldiers have fought in the past 100 years -- World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Korea, Beirut, Granada, Panama, Kuwait, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq.
"It's for the soldiers who died for our country," the mother finally told her son. There was a lot more to say, but the mood was somber and respectful. They could discuss it in the car.
She could tell him about the emotions that were probably going through veteran Gar Williams' mind when he got choked up as he asked Boy Scout Troop 194 to place flags on the memorial, one for each local member of the military still on active duty. She would explain why more than 100 people were gathered at the cemetery when the weather was perfect for biking or hiking or having a barbecue.
"It's easy to forget the reason for Memorial Day," Sen. Jack Taylor said. "But we cannot forget that soldiers gave up their today so that we could have a tomorrow. The unprovoked terror attack that we experienced on Sept. 11 should serve as a reminder that we should never take our freedom for granted."
He asked that those gathered not only spend the day honoring soldiers of the past, but to think about the soldiers that are still putting their lives in danger in 120 countries around the world.
He ended his speech with the words written at the entrance of the Arlington National Cemetery, the site of the first Memorial Day service in 1868 to honor a Civil War veteran. The inscription reads, "Not for fame or reward, nor for place or rank, Not lured by ambition, or goaded by necessity, But in simple obedience to duty, as they understood it, These men suffered all, sacrificed all, dared all ... and died."
When the ceremony ended, the crowd walked through the Steamboat Springs Cemetery stopping at the graves of veterans, each of which was marked by an American flag.
The words that Buck Buckland read earlier at the ceremony still hung in the air.
"Let's not neglect the graves of those who died for our country ... and communicate to future generations that we have forgotten the cost of freedom," he said.
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