Steamboat’s Memorial Day ceremony includes unveiling of 11 new headstones for veterans | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat’s Memorial Day ceremony includes unveiling of 11 new headstones for veterans

Jack Weinstein

— The grave sites of 11 veterans laid to rest in Steamboat Springs Cemetery had been marked only with white wooden crosses.

Until Monday.

For a variety of reasons, the veterans had been buried without a proper marker honoring their lives and military service. Now, after a fitting Memorial Day ceremony, all 265 veterans buried in Steamboat have headstones.

The newest markers — flat, 18-inch square granite head­stones — were dedicated Mon­­day during the city's annual Mem­­orial Day ceremony organized by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 4264 and Ameri­can Legion Post No. 44.

During the ceremony, 13-­year-old Reina Salky, a sev­enth-grader at Steamboat Springs Middle School, was honored for her community service project that raised about $1,600 to pay for the headstones.

U.S. Army veteran Jim Stanko, a Steamboat rancher and member of the VFW, said it had long been a project of his and other post members to get headstones for each of the veterans that lacked them. But a lack of funds or missing paperwork for the veterans prevented it.

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Reina approached Stanko in November about her idea for a community service project — a requirement of her bat mitzvah, which signifies a girl becoming an adult in the Jewish community — and the two worked together to identify the veterans and compile information about them.

Their work culminated on Memorial Day, when each veteran was honored during the late-morning ceremony and programs were made available with a map to each of the 11 gravesites. The veterans who received headstones are: Harvey Adams, Spanish-American War; Byron Baker, John Belton, Joe Lombardi, Louis Long, World War I; Lawrence Belton, Orville Dawson, Edgar Manning, Hugh Young, World War II; Russell Dodd, Cold War; and George Serencko, Vietnam.

After the ceremony, Stanko said it felt good to finally have a proper headstone for each veteran buried in Steamboat.

"It's something I always felt was important to get done," he said. "These guys needed that. They were veterans. Other than a few of us who put flags on their graves, no one knew they were veterans. Because they served their country, they needed that recognition."

The dedication of the 11 veterans enhanced the ceremony, which included the singing of the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful, a 21-gun salute and the playing of taps. Hundreds of residents from Steamboat and throughout Routt County attended the ceremony.

Steamboat res­ident Kevin Kam­inski said some members of his family who served in the military are buried in the Steamboat cemetery. Kaminski said he and his wife, Kelly, bring their 12-year-old son, Kylen, and 8-year-old daughter, Keely, to the annual Mem­orial Day ceremony.

"We come out every year to honor the guys," Kam­inski said. "I want to make sure my kids know what this day is truly for. It's not about picnics and days off. It's about honoring our veterans."

During the ceremony, Reina was presented a plaque from the Colorado Patriot Guard Riders, of Denver, which commended her for the project. Dave Moreau, a member of the Colorado Patriot Guard Riders who served in the Navy, said the organization provides support for military veterans and their families.

"When we found out she was doing this, we thought she should be recognized," Moreau said. "She deserved it for making this patriotic gesture and leading by example. We hope others take the initiative to support our troops."

American Le­­gion Com­mander Buck Buckland, who served in the Air Force during the Korean War, also praised Reina for her project.

"For young people to get involved as she has, it gives me a warm appreciation for the future of our country," Buckland said.

Reina took on the project to honor her uncle, Marine Corps. Capt. Robert Secher, who was killed in 2006 while serving in Iraq. Reina said the project taught her more about Memorial Day and how important it is to veterans and families of the men and women who served.

After completing the project, Reina said she was happy.

"It means a lot to me," she said.