Veterans remembered, honored on Memorial Day

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— As sun broke through overcast skies Monday, three veterans reenacted the Changing of the Guard that is performed continually at Arlington National Cemetery.

In the Steamboat Springs Cemetery and in front of several hundred people, the men dressed in crisp uniforms clicked their heels, saluted and handled their weapons as though they were in front of the Tomb of the Unknowns.

It was the first time that the reenactment was performed as part of Steamboat's Memorial Day ceremony, hosted by American Legion Post 44 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4264. The three men, Army veteran Rick Reinhard, Navy veteran Rod Herman and Army veteran Robert Nelson, practiced every week for two months to get the precision of the ceremony.

"(Performing the Changing of the Guard) is one of the biggest military honors you can get while on active duty," Nelson said. "Being able to reenact it is a privilege."

Despite his 21 years in the Army and his time in Operation Desert Storm, Nelson said the Changing of the Guard ceremony was something new to him.

"I spent 21 years as a diesel mechanic, so I didn't get much rifle training," Nelson said.

Herman said he performed similar ceremonies, but never the Changing of the Guard.

"It is a lot of fun," he said.

Nelson and Herman were trained by Reinhard, who was a presidential escort in Washington D.C. for two and half years during George H.W. Bush's presidency.

Although Reinhard did not guard the Tomb of the Unknowns, he did stand guard at the White House when visiting dignitaries came or when a wreath was placed on a grave in Arlington National Cemetery.

Reinhard also had friends who were sentinels, the soldiers that guard the Tomb of the Unknowns. From them, Reinhard learned the ceremony.

It was Reinhard's job Monday as sergeant of the guard to inspect the other two men's rifles with white gloves. Herman, in his Navy uniform, stood guard first and was followed by Nelson.

The hardest part of the ceremony, all three men agreed, was making sure that everything was done in unison -- the exact steps, the swinging of the arms, the sharp turns.

"It wouldn't have made much of a difference," Reinhard said on if the timing was a little off, "but it is just engrained in your mind after two and half years."

The reenactment was intended to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers and deceased veterans on Memorial Day, but VFW Commander Jim Stanko said it also symbolizes the changing of the guard within the VFW. Every few years, Stanko said, leadership changes as new veterans come home and wish to honor those who served before them.

The three men in the Changing of the Guard ceremony were either veterans of Operation Desert Storm or served during that time.

"Now, the Vietnam era veterans are passing the torch to the next generation," Stanko said.

Nelson said that interest among the Desert Storm veterans is growing, as evidenced by the 15 new memberships the VFW has acquired in the last few months.

"We are trying to reach out and touch everybody and get them to join up," he said.

Monday's ceremony involved more than 40 participants. Most were veterans, but Boy Scouts and members of the Civil Air Patrol also took part in the memorial activities.

Along with the trio who preformed the Changing of the Guard, the ceremony incorporated the flag detail, color guard, rifle squad, two men who played the bugles and a man who played the bagpipes.

In a brief speech, State Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, urged the crowd to remember those veterans buried at the Steamboat Springs Cemetery and their deeds and accomplishments.

"As they served America, let us pledge our continued dedication to freedom, justice and democracy," Taylor said.

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