As the number of living World War II veterans dwindles, a new effort has launched in Durango to preserve the legacy of those who served abroad and the women who kept America running.
Members of Girl Scout Troop 26243 will carry posters displaying pictures of World War II veterans in the Veterans Day Parade to kick off the Spirit of ’45 campaign in town.
The parade is held at 11 a.m. on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, every year in Durango to honor all people who have served in the U.S. armed forces, living and dead.
Similarly, Spirit of ’45 is a national nonprofit focused on honoring the living and deceased members of the World War II generation and sharing their stories of courage and sacrifice to help inspire Americans to meet modern challenges.
Durangoan Judy Winzell and her husband, Jim, are building an alliance of local organizations to support the campaign in Durango.
“We want to see our World War II, greatest generation heroes honored,” she said.
To spread the Spirit of ’45 message, the national nonprofit is aiming to start campaigns in every congressional district in the U.S. So far in Colorado, there are two other efforts, including an established campaign in Fort Collins and a fledgling campaign in Colorado Springs, she said.
During Sunday’s parade, the scouts and members of the Blue Star Mothers of Durango, a group of moms with a child serving or who has served in the military, will carry about a dozen images featuring veterans who have a local connection for Spirit of ’45, Winzell said.
For example, Ellie Rice, 6, will carry a portrait of her great-great uncle U.S. Army Gen. Andrew Goodpaster, who served in World War II and later as deputy commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam.
The photos will be sent to the Spirit of ’45 headquarters in Washington, D.C., to be displayed at the National Mall as a part of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in 2020.
At the parade, the scouts will wear red bandannas with white polka dots, reminiscent of Rosie the Riveter, a symbol of the millions of women who worked outside the home during the war.
The troop’s members, in kindergarten through third grade, decided among themselves to walk in the parade, troop leader Erika Casorso said.
The campaign’s focus on women in the workforce during the war made the Spirit of ’45 campaign a good fit for the troop that was established this fall, she said.
“It just felt like a natural partnership,” she said.
Winzell spoke to the scouts last week about World War II and her own family’s contribution. She was inspired to start a local campaign because her father served in the war and her mother worked as a munitions plant inspector outside of Pittsburgh, she said.
She said she hopes the girls in the troop will be inspired to pursue more traditionally male fields in science, technology, engineering and math after learning about the contributions of women during the war.
“They are the ones that we want to have educated in World War II values and achievements,” she said.
She hopes to involve additional Girl Scout troops, veterans groups and other local organizations in the alliance to support the campaign, she said.
The campaign expects to hold events in honor of the World War II generation on Memorial Day, Independence Day and lesser-known holidays, such as National Rosie the Riveter Day in March and the National Spirit of ’45 Day, on the second Sunday in August.
The campaign also hopes to plant a rose garden, possibly at Greenmount Cemetery, as a “living memorial” to the women who took non-traditional jobs as part of the war effort, she said.
Planting a rose garden at the cemetery would require city approval and a long-term plan for maintenance, she said.
The national movement to plant Rosie the Riveter Memorial Rose Gardens was started in 2017 by Elinor Otto, the longest working Rosie.
Otto started as a riveter in 1941 and held other jobs after the war ended. But she later resumed her career as a riveter, a job she held until November 2014 when she was 95, according to the Spirit of ’45 campaign.
Jim and Judy Winzell and Otto all worked for Boeing in Long Beach, California, from 1996 until 2004, although the couple never met Otto, Winzell said.
Since starting work on the campaign, the Winzells have chatted with Otto about their years at Boeing, she said. Now 99, Otto is still “sharp as a tack,” Winzell said.