Summit County towns, Breckenridge Heritage Alliance honor fallen veterans for Memorial Day
Summit County’s Memorial Day events were virtual last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Restrictions have eased this year, and while ceremonies will remain low-key, the county’s towns and organizations are hosting events to honor fallen soldiers and share the stories of veterans buried in local cemeteries.
Memorial Day events
In Frisco, the town will place American flags at the Frisco Cemetery and on lampposts lining Main Street for Memorial Day, town spokesperson Vanessa Agee said.
Dillon is hosting a ceremony from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Dillon Cemetery, featuring music by the Summit Concert Band and a reading of the names of service members buried at the cemetery. There will also be an open microphone opportunity so attendees can speak in remembrance of those who have died.
Local Boy Scouts will be at the event to present the colors and hold a flag retirement ceremony. Attendees can bring their old flags to have them retired, and there will also be free flowers for anyone to pick up and either plant at the cemetery or take home.
The Breckenridge Heritage Alliance is honoring Memorial Day in two ways this year, with a prerecorded event for people to view at home and an in-person event for Upper Blue Elementary School students the Friday before Memorial Day.
Larissa O’Neil, Breckenridge Heritage Alliance executive director, said that the organization will record a flag raising by the Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District and the Breckenridge Police Department as well as remarks from herself. The recorded event will be available the morning of Memorial Day at BreckHeritage.com.
O’Neil said that while the organization didn’t have enough time to plan an in-person ceremony this year in light of recent restriction changes, she hopes to get back to the alliance’s traditional Memorial Day ceremony next year.
On Friday, May 28, fourth graders from Upper Blue Elementary visited the Valley Brook Cemetery and placed American flags at the headstones of veterans with the help of heritage alliance staff. According to June Walters, historical tour guide for the alliance, there are 62 veterans in the cemetery that served in the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War. There are also several Civil War veterans in Valley Brook who served in the Union Army.
“We feel because of the history that Valley Brook has, it’s important to continue to do our part in commemorating Memorial Day in our community,” O’Neil said.
A lesson in symbology
While Memorial Day traditionally honors soldiers who died in active combat, all of the veterans in Valley Brook are honored with flags on the remembrance day.
“Our tradition has always been to place flags in front of veterans’ markers for Memorial Day,” O’Neil said. “… There’s some really neat symbology and certain ways in which the markers were constructed for veterans that are kind of unique. So we’re using it as an opportunity for the students to come over and not only talk to them about the history of the cemetery and the meaning of Memorial Day, but also what to look for.”
The fourth graders took part in what what O’Neil called a type of scavenger hunt event, where they looked for certain markers throughout the cemetery that relate to veterans. Among the symbols is a cross in the veterans’ section of the cemetery that reads, “the unknown dead.” O’Neil said the cross was constructed shortly after World War II and has recently been restored.
“The cross is there to honor anyone near and far who died while serving in the military,” O’Neil said. “So that is the primary marker, if you will, that commemorates anyone who would be honored on Memorial Day.”
O’Neil also explained the significance of the white-marble markers in the cemetery. The marker is used for veterans who were part of the Grand Army of the Republic, which was a fraternal organization that was formed shortly after the Civil War. Members of the group served in the Union Army.
“Anyone who has an affiliation, who was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic — of which there were hundreds of chapters around the world, and Breckenridge had its own chapter — would receive that specific white-marble marker,” O’Neil said.
Grand Army of the Republic affiliation runs deep in Breckenridge’s history, O’Neil explained. There used to be a Grand Army of the Republic hall in Breckenridge, where Prospector Park now sits, which at the time was one of the larger community buildings in town. At its peak, the group had nearly a half million members nationwide, but the organization is no longer active.
Another noteworthy pattern in the cemetery is the direction markers face, O’Neil said. She explained that certain veterans that were affiliated with fraternal organizations had their grave markers facing west. Often, markers face east to rise with the sun, but O’Neil said that those who had a strong affinity for the West would often have markers face that direction instead.
A history of veterans at Valley Brook Cemetery
Breckenridge Heritage Alliance members also shared the stories of some of the veterans at the cemetery. One of the men buried in Valley Brook is Leslie Thomas McMacken Jr. of Frisco, who may be the only Summit County native to have died in combat in the Vietnam War, according to Honor States, a website that provides information on service members killed during wartime. Other fallen soldiers from Summit County served in World War I and II.
According to records compiled by John (Jack) Craig, who lived in the area during the Vietnam War era, McMacken was a lance corporal and was awarded a Purple Heart.
McMacken enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps as a rifleman, and he began his tour on Jan. 3, 1969, according to Honor States. He was killed by a gunshot wound in the Quang Nam province of South Vietnam while involved in Operation Pipestone Canyon on May 31, 1969. He died at the age of 18.
Walters, who has volunteered to place the flags for Memorial Day since 2015, also shared the story of Charles Walker, a Civil War veteran and Grand Army of the Republic member buried in the Masonic section of the cemetery.
“He is very distinguished by the fact that he is the only Breckenridgian, the only one we know so far, who … fought in a Civil War battle against the town-legend namesake: John Cabell Breckinridge,” Walters said.
Walters said that there are various urban legends for how Breckenridge got its name. One theory is that it was named after John Cabell Breckinridge, who was the 14th vice president of the United States and a Confederate general during the Civil War.
“Charles Walker’s home is that two-story log cabin that is opposite the Summit County courthouse on Lincoln Avenue,” Walters said.
Walker later died in Breckenridge, and his 1875 home is privately owned. But it can still be viewed through the slats of the picket fence on Lincoln Avenue.
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