Durango honors the fallen

Vietnam vet hopes for an end to the annual roll-call of the lost

Veteran Clare Knickerbocker salutes while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance next to his wife, Mitzi, during Memorial Day services Monday at the Greenmount Veterans Memorial at Greenmount Cemetery. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald photos

Veteran Clare Knickerbocker salutes while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance next to his wife, Mitzi, during Memorial Day services Monday at the Greenmount Veterans Memorial at Greenmount Cemetery.

Most faces were stoic. Some smiled wistfully. A few struggled to hold back tears.

The air was thick with emotion Monday as war veterans, their relatives and friends, and community members gathered in Durango to commemorate Memorial Day and pay tribute to America’s fallen soldiers.

Gratitude and remembrance were common themes.

“It’s important for me to be here to honor my friends who died. And beyond that, to honor all military personnel in all wars that have died,” said Calixto Cabrera, a former Marine who served in Vietnam.

It was a multi-generational occasion. World War II veterans stood interspersed with recent returnees from Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Fred Riedinger, chaplain for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 4031 and a former Warrant Officer in the Coast Guard, loyalty among U.S. service members transcends age.

“Veterans share an undying bond, an undying love,” he said. “One serviceman doesn’t have to know another personally to understand the other’s sacrifice. It’s a heartfelt solidarity.”

The local VFW chapter organized three separate Memorial Day ceremonies.

At 10 a.m. more than 150 people assembled in Iris Park for the Rose Rollcall of Colorado Heroes, a tradition honoring Colorado service members who died in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2002. As the 94 names were read, volunteers from the crowd placed red roses with labeled tags at the foot of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to honor each soldier’s memory.

Chris Meyer of the Vietnam Era Veterans Association noted the official end of the Iraq War in his closing remarks. The last U.S. troops left Iraqi soil on Dec. 18, 2011.

“This is our last year of calling out the names of servicemen and women who died (in Iraq),” he said. “We hope that soon our ceremony will no longer include a roll call.”

Those in attendance were given time to recognize their lost loved ones, from wars new and old, by calling their names aloud. After some initial hesitation, names could be heard in a near continuous stream for several minutes.

Shortly after, at nearby Greenmount Cemetery, the American and POW/MIA flags rippled at half-staff in the breeze. The iconic bugle call “Taps” cast a solemn mood over the proceedings. Representatives from the VFW, the American Legion and other veterans-support groups spoke about courage, freedom and hope for a more peaceful world.

“On this day we honor those who have passed. It is now up to the living to establish a society free of war,” said Ed Mathis of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization.

“Of course we come to remember. But it’s equally important for the country to see the high toll of political decisions that lead us to war,” Cabrera said.

The Memorial Day events finished at the Ninth Street bridge, where a wreath adorned with flowers was dropped into the Animas River to salute service members lost at sea.

lgroskopf@durangoherald.com

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