Hundreds of veterans and their supporters turned out for the annual Veterans Day Parade in downtown Cortez Wednesday afternoon.
All the local veteran groups joined in, said organizer and veteran Mike Brunk, including the American Legion Ute Mountain Post 75, Montezuma County Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5231, Disabled American Veterans, Greenlight a Vet, Daughters of the American Revolution and others.
Ute Mountain veterans and color guards also participated in the parade, as did the Cortez Police Department, Cortez Fire Protection District, Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office, Colorado State Patrol, Montezuma County Veterans Affairs and other emergency responders.
The Pagosa Springs San Juan Squadron flew a three-plane formation over the parade twice.
The Montezuma-Cortez High School and Middle School bands were scheduled to march and play music, but school officials canceled their performance because of the local spike in coronavirus cases.
Dan Tanner, a U.S. Army veteran who served from 1972-1978 as a medic in South Korea and Japan, was pleased to see all the support.
“It makes me proud,” he said. “Cortez has always had strong support for veterans. After 9/11, you saw a lot more appreciation nationwide for the military. People woke up to the fact we are subject to attack.”
Tanner’s father was in World War II, and his son has served in the U.S. Army for 22 years, with tours in Afghanistan and Africa.
Britny Little traveled from Blanding, Utah, with her family to see the parade.
“This day is important to us. We have family members who have served in the military,” she said. “It is a good, long parade, so that’s nice.”
Veterans Day is often confused with Memorial Day, said Robert Valencia, retired Army Sgt. 1st Class, and member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and the American Legion.
Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, whereas Memorial Day celebrates those who died while serving in the U.S. armed forces.
World War II veteran Raymond Weeks, of Birmingham, Alabama, who is known as The Father of Veterans Day, led the first national celebration in 1947.
Armistice Day had been celebrated for those that had died during World War I, but Weeks wanted a celebration that included all veterans.
In 1982, President Ronald Reagan awarded Weeks the Presidential Citizen Medal. Weeks led the Veterans Day celebration in Birmingham until his death in 1985.
On June 1, 1954, Congress amended the holiday, and it has been known as Veterans Day since then.
Of Montezuma County’s population of 26,000, 10% are veterans. But that number is most likely higher now, because it is based on the 2010 Census and includes only veterans registered with the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
Jim Kastl, a Cortez veteran who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War from 1961-65, said it is good to see veterans honored in the community with a parade.
“When I came home, I got called a baby killer in the Baltimore airport,” Kastl said. “But the war isn’t the veterans’ fault – it’s the politicians’ fault.”
When Kastl sees the green lights shining on porches and in businesses in support of veterans as part of the Greenlight a Vet initiative, he said he feels a “certain amount of pride” for serving his country.
“It is an honor and duty to serve our country if we want to keep it free,” said 94-year-old World War II veteran Benny Martinez.
He served alongside his father in the Philippines from 1944-46.
“The community came out to thank us for our military service, and we thank them,” said Brunk. “As Americans, we all pitch in during war, whether you serve abroad or keep the country running at home.”
This article was republished Nov. 11 to report that color guards, not royalty, participated in the parade.