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Veterans remember the fallen during Memorial Day ceremonies

Former service members reflect on younger generations and what it means to serve your community
Knights of Columbus grandmaster Bill Waters speaks during the Memorial Day Ceremony on Monday at Greenmount Cemetery. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

Some saluted, some shed tears and some stood in silence as veterans commemorated fallen military service members during Monday’s Memorial Day ceremonies in Durango.

Ceremonies were held at Iris Park, Greenmount Cemetery and Rotary Park. The first was a Vietnam Veteran Remembrance Ceremony that started at 10 a.m. and was put on by the Vietnam Era Veterans Association.

The event was held in front of the Vietnam Memorial at Iris Park. Master of ceremonies Christopher Meyer spoke about those who had been lost in all wars, not just Vietnam.

He shared the importance of remembering the names of those who served. He called out names, and attendees who represented those fallen service members put a flower on the memorial.

The group has held the ceremony every Memorial Day for 30 years, Meyer said.

“There’s a lot of feeling of grief and loss,” Meyer said of the event. “For the guys who were with and knew people who died closely, it meant a lot. Especially infantry guys who lived with their friends.”

Christopher Meyer speaks in front of the Vietnam Memorial on Monday at Iris Park. The Vietnam Era Veterans Association has been holding the Vietnam Veteran Remembrance Ceremony for over 30 years. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)
A flower is placed at the base of the Veterans Memorial at Greenmount Cemetery. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

Meyer is a Vietnam Army veteran who served two years in combat. For him, the ceremony brings back memories of the friends he’s lost but also when putting flags up at the Greenmount Cemetery, he realizes how many friends in Durango he’s come to know and lost.

When asked what he would say to younger generations celebrating Memorial Day, he said there needs to be more emphasis on public service in the younger generations.

That didn’t necessarily mean that every person should serve in the military, he said; rather, youths must find some way to serve their community.

“If they want to be in the military they could do that,” he said. “If they want to pick up garbage, they could do that as well.”

He added that even those who conduct trail maintenance serve the country.

For Vietnam veterans, they haven’t always been viewed in the most positive light, Meyer said. Initially, their fight in Vietnam was considered a failure among other veterans who served in previous wars, but this has changed in the last 30 years. This was one of the reasons the Vietnam Era Veteran’s Association was created.

However, he said what is important now is that younger generations focus on the direction of the United States and serve their country in honorable ways.

“When I was in the army, I learned a lot about people,” he said. “I was living with people from all kinds of walks of life, and you learn about a lot of different ways to live.”

At Greenmount Cemetery, members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4031 commemorated fallen soldiers with traditional poems and speeches about military service, and what it means to honor a fellow service member.

Conducting the ceremony was Vietnam Army veteran Joe Perino, who has been the master of ceremonies for at least the last 10 years, he said.

Perino said the ceremony gives people a sense of family and that they can share a powerful moment with others in remembering a lost loved one.

“The most important thing to me is to be there with the family and to support them,” he said.

Veterans honor the fallen with the firing of three volleys on Monday during a ceremony at Iris Park. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

When Perino is speaking during the ceremony, he says it doesn’t bring back memories from his service and he chooses to focus on honoring those who gave their lives to serve.

He has also conducted military funerals since 1972. He will often have members of the families stay after the service and talk to him about their lost loved one. On Monday, it was no different as many attendees greeted him with love and admiration after the ceremony ended.

“I think it’s a sad thing that they’re not learning more about this in school,” Perino said.

He said when he was growing up, the importance of military service and Memorial Day were part of his education. But now that Perino is in his late 70s, education has changed.

“I talked to a teacher one day who says they’re not allowed to teach certain things because of the changing ideas,” Perino said.

A Veterans Lost at Sea Remembrance Ceremony was held at noon Sunday in Rotary Park.

The ceremony honored service members lost at sea and whose bodies were never found.


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