Tom Ross: Veterans at rest overlook Steamboat

The stories of remarkable lives are waiting to be rediscovered


Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or

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Editor's note: Tom Ross is off for the Memorial Day holiday. This column originally was published in May 2003.

Charles Christian Graham virtually is forgotten here. However, he always is memorialized one weekend near the end of May when they place a small American flag in front of his headstone.

There was a time, more than 90 years ago, when he was a prominent citizen of Steamboat Springs.

Born in 1842, he had been a colonel in the Union Army during the Civil War. Near the turn of the century, he was Steamboat's state senator from the Populist Party.

We can infer from his political affiliation that Graham stood for the interests of farmers and laborers.

He may have supported free coinage of gold and silver, public ownership of railroads and a graduated federal income tax. I would have liked to have asked him about those things myself. But he died in California in 1914 and was only brought back to Steamboat for burial.

He's over in the old section of Steamboat Springs Cemetery where there's an unimpeded view of Mount Werner.

You could not have known from driving by on the highway today, but there were a startling number of flags in front of grave stones in the little cemetery on the hill - 256 in all. All of them signified the resting places of military veterans.

Most of the veterans on the hill, like Graham, survived their combat experiences. But there are five graves of men who died for their country, three from the Korean War and two from Vietnam. It is sobering to note that World War I and World War II claimed the lives of 54 Routt County soldiers, and most of them never came home. Many are buried in Europe.

Jim Stanko, who serves on the cemetery board, knows some of the stories.

Strolling through the cemetery on a May afternoon that resonated with the promise of new life, he pointed some of them out. Over there is the grave of a soldier who died in service but never made it onto the battlefield.

"Here's Steamboat Springs' first pilot," Stanko said, pausing by a marker decorated with a four-bladed propeller and a pair of angelic wings. It marks the grave of James E. Noyce, born 1898, died 1918.

"Jimmy Noyce went into the Army Air Corps," Stanko said. "He was learning to fly in Texas, and he crashed and killed himself."

That was a long time ago.

John Rolfe Burroughs is recalled primarily as the author of books about Routt County, including "Where the Old West Stayed Young" and "I never Look Back," the biography of Buddy Werner.

Standing in front of his grave, Stanko recalls that Burroughs, who died in 1987, got his start as a writer while he was a prisoner of war in the Pacific during World War II. "He kept his diary on toilet paper," Stanko said.

Willard B. Marshall Sr. was another World War II veteran who survived captivity as a POW, Stanko said.

Marshall was a crew member on a B17 bomber shot down over Europe.

He died Dec. 28, 1979. There was a flag planted in front of his headstone during the weekend.

Leonard M. Officer and Frank Finch are side by side in the cemetery beneath identical military headstones.

The letters "PH" carved into the stone signify that they were killed in action.

Officer and Finch were killed in Korea.

Ben Junior Ehle is another veteran of the Korean War who didn't make it home alive. All three men were killed in their 20s.

John Vialpondo died on Pearl Harbor Day, but in a different war. He was a private in Company C of the 47th Infantry, Ninth Infantry Division when he was killed in Vietnam on Dec. 7, 1968. He was just 19. David Edward Fogg, a 1963 graduate of Soroco High School was a lance corporal in the Marines when he was killed in Vietnam on July 5, 1969.

There is a photograph of the lance corporal on his grave. Encased in plastic, 24 years of snow and sun have not faded his image.

The newest grave in the cemetery is that of Doug Buchanan who died this spring, Stanko said. He won a Silver Star for bravery in Vietnam.

There was a flag on the grave of former City Councilman Don Brookshire this weekend and one on the grave of the great wrestling coach Carl Ramunno.

Skiing legends Buddy Werner and Gordy Wren were remembered for their military service. In fact, everywhere one looked, there were small flags, each one symbolizing a story that deserves to be told.


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