As the sun rose over the Cortez Cemetery, a small crowd gathered for a Memorial Day ceremony presented by the American Legion Post 75.
“This morning, we honor all veterans who have served, and give thanks and prayer,” said John Shriner, American Legion organizer. “These are not normal times, but it is still fitting to acknowledge our veterans.”
Normally, the legion VFW Post 5231 host several events for Memorial Day, including a veterans breakfast and tributes in Dolores and Mancos.
But those events were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and state restrictions on large gatherings.
At the ceremony Monday morning, veterans were honored with the raising of the American flag, the Pledge of Allegiance, a three-volley rifle salute and a performance by bagpipe player Jim Lynch, a Korean War veteran. Taps was also played.
Another ceremony is planned for Veterans Park in Cortez at 3 p.m. Volunteers are needed at 4 p.m. at the Cortez Cemetery to collect the flags.
WWII veteran Bud Leroy Crawn, 94, said he like to see more participation in events honoring veterans.
“There is a lack of awareness nowadays, not as much patriotism,” he said. “When I was a kid, we would all line up and walk to the cemetery for the ceremonies. You don’t see that anymore.”
Pandemic restrictions are too stringent and are challenging the freedoms veterans fought for, Crawn said.
“America used to be free, but now there are more sheep. It’s time to open up the country again,” he said.
At the Cortez Cemetery Friday, more than 20 volunteers placed more 400 flags on veteran gravesites. The same happened at cemeteries in Mancos, Dolores and throughout the county.
At the Cedar Grove cemetery in Mancos, majestic casket flags on tall poles greeted visitors on Memorial Day.
The Daughters of the American Revolution has been documenting veterans gravesites in the county, and the Montezuma County VFW recently joined the effort. They research records from Veterans Affairs and seek information from residents.
“We are working together to continually update the list,” said Mike Brunk, an Air Force veteran, VFW member and volunteer driver for the Disabled American Veterans. “Recognizing our veterans who have come and gone is what we stand for.”
Memorial Day is a reminder for the public of the sacrifices paid by veterans in defense of American values, said David Johnson, VFW commander.
“Generations have fought for our country and our liberty. That freedom was fought and paid for, but as Ben Franklin said, it must be held on to by the people,” he said.
At the Cortez Cemetery Friday afternoon, Corena Hampton and Crystal Oveson, of the VFW Auxiliary, placed American flags on veteran gravesites.
“Honoring our veterans and patriotism is a long tradition in this area,” Hampton said.
She wore a RED Friday veteran’s T-shirt. RED stands for Remember Everyone Deployed. They are available for $15 by calling 970-570-5755. Proceeds pay for care packages sent off to locals serving in the military.
Wreaths can be purchased for a veteran to be honored during the Wreaths Across America event on Dec. 19 at the Cortez Cemetery veterans memorial.