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Sign of the Times

American Legion will turn welcome sign in community’s cemetery into veterans memorial
Darla Sanders, Linley Leonard and Jim Halleck cover the old welcome sign July 21 while preparing it for a new memorial for veterans at Cortez Cemetery. For years, motorists entering Cortez from the east on U.S. Highway 160 may have wondered why Cortez had a welcome sign in its cemetery. After turning the sign into a memorial, the American Legion plans to dedicate the memorial at 11 a.m. Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
The city of Cortez worked to have a smaller welcome sign placed beside U.S. Highway 160 on the east side of town when city officials learned the welcome sign in the cemetery would be used for something else. The city has plans to construct a much larger, three-dimensional welcome feature on the east side of town, possibly near the Cortez Animal Shelter.
Vets rest at cemetery

Back in the late 1800s, the Cortez Cemetery Association bought five acres of apple orchard from George Todd to start a cemetery for the young community.
“It was businessmen in Cortez, and businesswomen, that thought they had to have one (cemetery),” said June Head, a historian with the Montezuma County Historical Society and a former Cortez Cemetery District board member.
On Dec. 29, 1890, folks buried Rev. Joel Harper, pastor of the First Congregational Church in Cortez. That was the first burial in Cortez Cemetery.
Now, the cemetery holds more than 7,000 graves. About 400 Americans who died during or after their military service are buried in that stretch of Colorado dirt on the east side of town, and their history dates back to the Civil War.
“The first ones that I could find out … were the Civil War veterans,” Head said about historical research she has conducted on the cemetery. “Then there was some from the Indian Wars. Now the Indian Wars could either be before the Civil War or after the Civil War. It was any Indian conflict before 1890. There’s only three out there (from conflicts with Native Americans). I think all three belong to the Colorado Cavalry.”
The bones of three soldiers from the 1898 Spanish-American War — George Richards, Albert Smith and Otis Duncan — lay at Cortez Cemetery.
“Then there’s of course World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq,” Head said. “We have one from Iraq: Mr. George Geer.”
U.S. Army Spc. Geer died Jan. 17, 2005, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his position in Ar Ramadi, Iraq. The Army specialist from Cortez was 27 when he died. He received the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Good Conduct Medal and Infantryman’s Badge.
A memorial service was held Dec. 6, 2008, at Cortez Cemetery to honor U.S. Army Cpl. John Albert Spruell, who died in battle Dec. 6, 1950, at Chosin Reservoir near Hagaru, North Korea. Spruell’s body was never found, and he was presumed dead at the age of 19. More than 100 people attended the 2008 memorial.
Spruell was awarded the Purple Heart, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, Korean Presidential Unit Citation and Republic of Korea War Service Medal, according to the Korean Honor Roll. His name was inscribed at the National Monument for the Missing in Action, in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and on the National Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“On Dec. 6, 1950, (John Spruell) left us, his community and his nation. ... He still and ever will be remembered in our prayers,” Linley Leonard, who served as chaplain at the 2008 ceremony, said during the event. A member of the American Legion, Leonard is working now to convert the old welcome-to-Cortez sign in Cortez Cemetery to a memorial for veterans.
Jimmie Hobday, a Cortez high school graduate who died serving as a U.S. Air Force tail gunner in a B-29 bombing raid over Korea in 1952, also was honored during the 2008 ceremony at Cortez Cemetery. Hobday received a memorial service and headstone at Arlington National Cemetery on July 23, 2009.
Placed near the old welcome-to-Cortez sign that will honor veterans when it’s completed, a memorial to Spruell reads:
“IN MEMORY OF JOHN ALBERT SPRUELL
“CPL US ARMY
“KOREA
“AUG 4 1931 DEC 6 1950.”
Other nearby gravestones honor some of the many veterans already buried at the cemetery: Manuel D. Neves II, SP5, U.S. Army, April 25, 1937, Nov. 14, 2010; Robert E. Murrish, MMI, U.S. Navy, World War II, Jan. 31, 1922, March 8, 2010, USS Helena, USS Polk; Gerald E. McNeel, U.S. Navy, Korea, March 5, 1933, July 19, 2008; and Valois J. Espinoza, U.S. Army, Vietnam, Dec. 31, 1946, July 2, 2004.
The American Legion has an area at the cemetery near the welcome-to-Cortez sign with more than 100 spaces designated for future burials of veterans, Head said.
If history can predict the future, some of those sites eventually will get filled.

Sources: Cortez Journal archives; June Head, Montezuma County Historical Society; fallenheroesmemorial.com; vetfriends.com.

Reach Russell Smyth at 564-6030 or russells@cortezjournal.com.

Sign of the Times

Darla Sanders, Linley Leonard and Jim Halleck cover the old welcome sign July 21 while preparing it for a new memorial for veterans at Cortez Cemetery. For years, motorists entering Cortez from the east on U.S. Highway 160 may have wondered why Cortez had a welcome sign in its cemetery. After turning the sign into a memorial, the American Legion plans to dedicate the memorial at 11 a.m. Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
The city of Cortez worked to have a smaller welcome sign placed beside U.S. Highway 160 on the east side of town when city officials learned the welcome sign in the cemetery would be used for something else. The city has plans to construct a much larger, three-dimensional welcome feature on the east side of town, possibly near the Cortez Animal Shelter.
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