And while the matter remains unsettled, tensions eased on Wednesday as the community came together to honor the nation’s greatest heroes, its veterans.
Dave Marsell, who helped organized the procession, said he hoped that the Veterans of Montezuma County Committee could meet with local American Legion officials after Wednesday afternoon’s official parade on Montezuma Avenue to alleviate any future confusion and reach a resolution.
“A couple of guys from the American Legion have said they want to have a cup of coffee and talk about next year,” said Marsell. “We all need to be on the same page. We really do.”
To show solidarity, Marsell, who served as a fighter aircraft mechanic in the U.S. Air Force from 1984 to 1988, said his group would participate in the official Veterans Day parade on Montezuma Avenue.
“We want to show that we’re not trying to separate the community,” he said.
A parade route controversy erupted last year after a group of several veterans opted to boycott the annual parade held on Montezuma Avenue. The core group of six military veterans argued that they and their peers should be honored with a parade on Main Street, about a quarter click to the south.
Officials with the Ute Mountain Ute American Legion Post No. 75, which sponsors the parade on Montezuma Avenue, have maintained that their members and the community at large favor their traditional parade route.
To reach a treaty, city officials agreed to provide a police escort for a “procession” down Main Street for the veterans group starting at 11 a.m. Wednesday before the official “parade” at 1 p.m. on Montezuma Avenue.
After a moment of silence, the Main Street procession roared to life Wednesday morning at Notah-Dineh Trading Co. as veterans and supporters driving muscle cars, rat rods and motorcycles revved their engines. The procession included Cortez Police Chief Roy Lane, a Cortez Fire Department ladder truck and Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin.
A majority of people surveyed along Main Street during the procession agreed: The annual Veterans Day parade should be held on the city’s foremost roadway.
“If we have any parade on Main Street, then it should be the Veterans Day parade,” said Glenn Leighton, owner of Notah-Dineh Trading Co.
Leighton added that parade organizers and veterans should set aside their differences and allow the community to come together as one to honor the sacrifices made by America’s service men and women. Leighton’s father, uncles and nephew all served in the U.S. military.
“These guys gave everything,” Leighton said with tears rolling down his cheek.
Chuck Doolen, who drove his Detroit V-12 Buzz’n Duzz’n rat rod, agreed that both sides should join forces.
“I see both sides,” said Doolen. “I wish they would talk. We should be united.”
Down the street, a Main Street customer at Envy Salon & Boutique on Wednesday didn’t hesitate when asked which route she preferred.
“Main Street,” said Tina Hampton, whose father, Frank Spore, of Dolores served in the military. “That’s the least we can do to honor them.”
Next door, customers and employees at The Abundant Life Natural Food Store agreed with Hampton, while across the street, employees at the Spruce Tree Expresso House thought it was a “silly argument.”
At The Medicine Man, a marijuana dispensary with red, white and blue glass pipes on display, customer Roger Hill emphatically voiced his support for a Veterans Day parade on Main Street. His father, Leo Hill, was a German prisoner of war during World War II.
“The veterans deserve a parade on Main Street,” Hill said.
Asked to speculate how his deceased father would weigh in on the issue, Hill said his dad wouldn’t even want a parade.
“He was just doing his job,” said Hill.
Farther east at the intersection of Mildred Road and Main Street, residents with signs supporting Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders were split on the issue. Some supported the compromise for two events, and others felt that veterans should be honored on Main Street. But a disabled veteran reminded his fellow Sanders supporters of the true meaning of the holiday.
“The point to all of this is to take care of veterans,” said Jim Mischke, who also noted the recent Veterans Affair hospital fiasco in Aurora.
Before the Montezuma Avenue parade, the Main Street procession ended with three separate wreath-laying ceremonies at the Cortez Cemetery Veterans Memorial, the Four Corners Veterans Memorial and the George Geer Memorial.
Harold Geer, whose son George Geer died in Iraq in 2005, said he opted to participate in both the procession and the parade to honor all that had served in the military. Yet, without getting too political, Geer leaned in favor of a single parade on Main Street.
“Those that have served deserve the utmost respect,” he said, driving a 1968 Dodge Charger that belonged to his son.
Joining Geer as a participant in the Montezuma Avenue parade was the Montezuma-Cortez High School Band, the American Legion and horseback-riding members of the Ute Mountain Roundup Rodeo Royalty. The snow-splotched route was lined with hundreds of men, women and children waving American flags.
“It was truly outstanding,” Geer said afterward.
Leland Belone, a senior at M-CHS, said he and classmates were granted a two-hour lunch break to attend the Veterans Day parade.
“It’s a small parade, but it still means a lot to support our veterans,” he said.
Post-parade, about 75 parents, students and veterans gathered at the American Legion for a patriotic choir performance from the Mesa Elementary Howlers.
“I like the enthusiasm, and I’m really surprised with the weather that we still had such a great turnout,” said Cortez American Legion member James Shriner.
“The youth is what this is all about, these kids are what keeps it alive,” added American Legion member Don Shank.