Craig A sea of people in different dress decorated the hall inside the American Legion Post No. 62 on Monday. Although separated by the garb of military fatigues and uniforms, civilian-wear and the black leather of motorcyclists, the 500-plus people in attendance shared a common trait.
They traveled, some across great distances, to pay tribute to late Staff Sgt. Mark Lawton, and for a ceremony renaming the post after the soldier killed in August 2003 while serving in Iraq.
The post on Moffat County Road 7 will now be known as the Mark Evans-Anthony Lawton American Legion Post No. 62.
Post commander Mel Shockley said post members were pleased with the turnout Monday.
"At one point, the head count was 526," Shockley said. "I think it was a huge success, an absolutely huge success. You won't hear any complaints from me."
Lawton, a member of the 244th Engineer Battalion, U.S. Reserves, out of Grand Junction, died from enemy gunfire.
His friend, Steve Alicea, of Arvada, said Lawton joined the Army after high school, served for four years and found that "it was not enough of a challenge." He then joined the U.S. Marine Corps for 10 years, and later the Reserves.
American Legion national commander Thomas Bock said Lawton exemplified the kind of sacrifice that keeps America safe from foreign threats.
"Because of his sacrifice, there are fewer terrorists out there to threaten Americans," Bock said.
American Legion officials also paid their respects Monday to soldiers, like Lawton, who were killed in action during wars throughout history, and prisoners of war. A missing man table, a military tradition honoring POWs, KIAs and soldiers missing in action, was set up in front of the podium where Bock and others spoke.
"The table is small, signifying the frailty of the prisoner against his or her captive," said Gar Williams, a Colorado American Legion representative. "The chair is empty because they are not here. The candle burning is for hope.
"Let us remember and never forget their sacrifice."
Monday's event included a fly-over by an Army National Guard helicopter and the arrival of hundreds of American Legion motorcycle riders making a 1,900-mile, cross-country trip to benefit veterans' children. The riders, on their way to Salt Lake City for a national convention, are taking part in the American Legacy Run, a fundraiser with a goal of raising $100,000 for college scholarships for children of soldiers killed on or after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Bock said Lawton's name would live on with the efforts of the American Legion post in Craig.
"He will live on because his love for God, family and country will be carried on through Post 62," Bock said.