Veterans Memorial Project volunteers aim to replace missing headstones as they remember Garfield County veterans
June 2, 2018
The quest to honor veterans across the Roaring Fork Valley started with an American Legion volunteer and a missing headstone.
The volunteer was working with the organization to place flags on veterans graves, as it does every year in honor of Memorial Day. As she did, she noticed there were a series of flags placed on empty pieces of grass.
She inquired about the oddity and learned that a veteran was in fact buried there but relatives had taken his headstone from the cemetery following a family argument decades ago.
He wasn't the only one.
Lisa Passmore says that's when she decided to lead a project that would locate and replace every missing veteran gravestone from Aspen to Parachute.
"Anyone who serves as a veteran has basically volunteered to die for people they don't know," she said.
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"They need to be recognized, even in death."
She solicited other people she knew, volunteers from The American Legion, and other local organizations. Ultimately, Passmore, a Rifle-based librarian named Judy Crook, and Greg Bak, a Garfield County veterans officer, led the five-year-old task.
The project the team spearheaded started with a list of 27 missing headstones. That's now down to 17, since the team of three has been able to locate veterans' relatives.
Passmore says the Veterans Association provides headstones for free but only if the service member's family applies.
Because of this, the project largely focused on locating family members through museum, library, newspaper, military and Ancestry.com archives.
The group is now focused on raising money to fund additional gravestones for deceased veterans whose families are unreachable.
"What's amazing is her passion," said Bill Kight, the executive director of the Glenwood Springs Historical Society and Frontier Museum. Passmore said that facility was instrumental in helping her research and locate families.
"She just didn't give up," Kight added.
Passmore said she received monetary support from the Garfield County Commission as well as Kight's historical facility. But she had trouble securing additional funds from banks and local businesses, which said they wouldn't provide for the deceased.
Kight's organization has offered to help Passmore lead the initiative for what they assume will be the last year of the project.
Bak, Passmore's teammate, said he hasn't heard of anyone else attempting anything similar. He hopes the project will gain traction and alert relatives of deceased veterans who might want to get involved in myriad ways.
"This is one final thing we can do to thank our vets for the work they performed," he said.
"I get the term 'thank you for your service' all the time, and it's a very nice sentiment, but I think doing something is much better," he said, adding he's also a veteran.
Snyder Memorials has offered to engrave any stones donated to the project, officially named The Veterans Memorial Project. The Grand Junction-based company designs gravestones and provides other memorial services.
Through hard work, Passmore and her team were able to place three headstones in Glenwood Springs and Rifle last year.
The group plans to place five additional stones in Rifle and Glenwood Springs this year, but is still working through some research-based obstacles, she said.
Volunteers will place 500 flags at Glenwood and Rosebud cemeteries this weekend, and flags will fly high for 48 hours, Passmore said.
The initiative to replace the missing headstones has also touched families internationally; one deceased vet's family is living in Ecuador.
Passmore emphasized the project is not solely dedicated to veterans who were killed in combat, but to all who served. The veterans on her list fought in the Civil War, Spanish American War, both World wars, as well as the Korean and Vietnam wars.
"I think it's easy to forget about other people that don't directly affect our lives, and that we don't have a direct connection to," Kight said, adding that his father and uncles were veterans.
"I feel like our freedom today is a direct result of the sacrifices those veterans made."
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