When the Durango Vietnam Veterans Memorial was built in 1982, Durango resident Julie Cooley said, the people who gathered there every Memorial Day were mostly friends and families of Vietnam soldiers.
“It used to be mostly our generation that would come, but now it has expanded to older and younger generations,” said Cooley, who attends the memorial event every year.
On Monday morning, Cooley’s observation held true as about 100 people – from toddlers to gray-haired veterans – gathered around the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Iris Park for the traditional Memorial Day Rose Roll Call of Colorado Heroes.
Thirty-five people held roses with the names of Colorado residents who have been killed in the war in Afghanistan. They laid the flowers at the base of the memorial as each soldier’s name was called.
Many of those carrying roses were veterans. John Ferguson, a former first sergeant in the U.S. Army, held a rose for Sgt. Jason Smith, a Colorado Springs resident who was killed Nov. 19, 2010.
Ferguson was one of many local residents whose life has been affected by war.
“There are 10,000 interesting stories around here,” Ferguson said.
Pauline and Rex Howard had a sweet story of how, 67 years ago, war brought them together. Rex Howard was serving in the Navy during World War II, and was based in San Pedro, Calif. He met Pauline during a return visit. Three weeks after their first date, he asked her to marry him. The two tied the knot a few days after Howard was discharged in late 1945.
Sometimes people take Memorial Day events casually and don’t realize how much work is put into organizing them, Pauline Howard said. Making the trip from their Bayfield home to Durango isn’t easy, but the couple does it to show their support, she said.
“As long as we’re able, we certainly will come,” she said.
The couple was among the crowd at a second Memorial Day gathering at Greenmount Cemetery’s Veterans Memorial. Representatives from the American Legion Post No. 28, the Knights of Columbus Colorado Council No. 1408, the Volunteers of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 4031, the Disabled American Veterans and the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War spoke in honor of fallen service members.
This is the nation’s 145th Memorial Day ceremony, Jerry Crawford, a past department commander with the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, told the audience. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, the head of an organization of Union veterans, established Decoration Day on May 30, 1868, three years after the Civil War ended. The day was dedicated to commemorating the nation’s fallen soldiers by decorating their graves with flowers. More than a century later in 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress.
The day brings a mix of emotions, said Joe Perino, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post Quartermaster as he introduced the ceremony.
“Memorial Day, with its sad and sacred memories, has come again,” he told a silent crowd.