Steamboat Springs World War II Veteran Lloyd Lockhart had tickets to go to the dedication of the new World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., this weekend. He decided not to go.
"I learned a lot more watching it on TV than in a big bunch of people like that," Lockhart said.
Instead, he spent the weekend with his family and fellow Steamboat Springs veterans attending a memorial service at the Steamboat Springs Cemetery and a luncheon at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post, where he and more than 50 other veterans gathered among friends to receive certificates recognizing their service in World War II.
Lockhart fought in the Battle of the Bulge. As a full-fledged member of the "greatest generation," he shared strong ideas on what it meant to go to war for his country.
"People today think this all comes for nothing," Lockhart said. "Freedom isn't free."
Lockhart and the other World War II veterans who gathered for Memorial Day lunch on Monday expressed their gratitude and strong approval of the new memorial dedicated in Washington, D.C., this weekend. Most of them thought it should have happened sooner.
"I don't understand why someone didn't do something a long time ago. I'm appalled it took this long," World War II veteran Harry "Hoppy" Tyson said. He was proudly wearing a lapel pin that his daughter brought back from visiting the memorial last week. After seeing photographs, Tyson said it was "unbelievable. It's fabulous."
Bob Canto, a World War II veteran who spent 22 months in the Aleutian Islands, said he made a contribution to the memorial two years ago. He said he gave enough money to include a small tribute to three of his fallen childhood friends who never returned home to Trinidad.
Don Lufkin, who spent 1944 and 1945 in the Pacific, said he thought the new World War II memorial was "long overdue and great."
"That was the most moving thing I ever saw," Lufkin, a charter member of the local VFW post, said of the dedication ceremony.
Admiring the space and friends around him during Monday's lunch, Lufkin said he sold raffle tickets for a Jeep in 1947 to make a down payment on the post's downtown Steamboat building, where it still exists today.
Enjoying lunch with Lufkin, World War II Veteran Bob DeVries agreed with his friend's sentiments about the Washington memorial. "It's beautiful. I just wish it's been done earlier," DeVries said. He said he intends to pay a visit to the memorial.
Monday's gathering at the VFW post gave veterans of different wars, and different generations, the opportunity to share their stories over barbecue beef, corn on the cob, watermelon and cake.
Tyson shared his most memorable moment with a gathering crowd around the pool table. He said he was on shore in Sicily, Italy, when General Patton came ashore "looking just like George C. Scott in the movies," wearing spurs and twin revolvers. Bridging the generations and listening in on Tyson's story, Sam Robards, a veteran who earned two purple hearts as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, said he taught General Patton's son to fly a helicopter.
Matt Aljanich, a 1984 Steamboat Springs High School graduate and Navy F-14 pilot who said he was "flying F-14s before he could drink beer," was back in town to participate in the morning memorial ceremonies at the Steamboat cemetery. He said he grew up going to Memorial Day ceremonies here and was happy to see such a high turnout from the local community.
Colorado Sen, Jack Taylor, who served in the Navy between the Korean War and the Vietnam War, was on hand to share in his hometown commemoration as well.
"This brought home to me what these people did for us," Taylor said. "They did it without fanfare, because it was there to be done."
Taylor took the opportunity to help push for support of the Healthy Veterans Act of 2004, which would allow veterans to receive medical treatment locally, as opposed to making long trips to Grand Junction every time they need a doctor.
"We promised them lifetime support and clearly they're not getting it," Taylor said while looking over a room full of veterans, particularly the aging contingency from World War II. "It's expensive, but we owe it to them."