Summit County pays respects to fallen vets on Memorial Day
Summit County joined the rest of the nation on Monday, May 30 in saluting those who have lost their lives serving and protecting the country, presenting the once-a-year Memorial Day ceremonies at the burial grounds of both Dillon and Breckenridge.
A sun-splashed morning met about 150 attendees at the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance’s fourth-annual observance of the holiday at the Valley Brook Cemetery off Airport Road. The event kicked off with Breckenridge Town Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe welcoming guests and giving thanks to those who came to pay their respects.
“It’s so fitting that we gather here and honor those who have so bravely served our country,” she said. “We have many brave people who are here in this cemetery who have served our country throughout the years — all the way back to at least as far as the Civil War.”
The four-year American Civil War, still the deadliest war in U.S. history, concluded in May 1865. Informal spring commemorations around the country’s newly-built national cemeteries started not long after, and, in 1868, the precursor to the yearly tradition — Decoration Day — was established for May 30.
The annual ritual evolved into Memorial Day after additional wars made it so it no longer became solely about remembering those who died during the Civil War. U.S. Congress later passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968, formally identifying Memorial Day as the last Monday in May, which took effect in 1971.
“It wasn’t a Monday holiday then,” retired Air Force Col. Charles Simpson recalled for those gathered at Valley Brook Cemetery yesterday, “it was just May 30. That was an important day to my family because it was my father’s birthday, and he was an Air Force chaplain in Korea and World War II. We knew well what the day meant.”
After the raising of the flag to half-staff — per custom between sunrise and noon on the holiday — by the color guards of the Breckenridge Police Department and Red White and Blue Fire, as well as the singing of the national anthem, Simpson made one request of the crowd. The Breckenridge resident of 27 years upon retirement from the armed forces after three decades of service, asked that in their thoughts they also include a conflict that is often overlooked: the Cold War.
“It was a war like the rest except for one thing,” he said, “we never had battles. We stood face-to-face against our enemy, the Soviet Union, with nuclear weapons for 47 years. We won that war in 1991, and the Soviet Union went away. People forget that war went on, and many people died during the Cold War; so remember them, too.”
Both Christian and Jewish community leaders offered prayers and Maj. Kerry Davis, a 30-year vet of the Army still serving in the Colorado Army National Guard, who made the trip up from Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, gave a keynote address.
“If Veterans Day is for the veterans who have served and are still serving,” he said, “then Memorial Day is for those veterans who have served and come home who could no longer be with us, and for those that were serving who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
The day pays respect to the fallen by remembering their names, but not by the day of their sacrifice. Rather, it’s about their willingness to serve and put themselves in harm’s way, and Davis encouraged toasts to these courageous individuals as a tribute to them and their families.
“We know, as Americans, there’s nothing that we can give to that family to bring back their loved one,” he said. “We as Americans, as well as service members, can give one more thing, though — and that is Memorial Day. That is remembering the fallen, and that’s important. So part of that healing process is why we’re here today.”
Wolfe and Davis then laid a memorial wreath by the flagpole near the handful of veteran gravestones, but not before Breckenridge resident Bonnie Smith led the audience in the singing of “America the Beautiful.” She noted in advance that a brief stay in Colorado inspired some of the lyrics written by Katharine Lee Bates before Samuel Ward later came along and put the poem to tune. But Monday’s rendition proved well suited for the outdoor setting by locals, with more than a few taking out cellphones to record the collaborative patriotic psalm.
“A great deal of what we know about the history of Breckenridge is presented here in Valley Brook Cemetery,” Larissa O’Neil, executive director of the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance, told the collection of observers about the backdrop recently listed in the National Register of Historic Places. “This was not just a place to bury the dead; it was also a gathering place — somewhere where people would come to appreciate the outdoors and the beautiful place where they live. I can certainly appreciate (that) on this beautiful morning.”
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