Honoring the many killed in action across the nation and from the Pine River Valley, American Legion Post 143 hosted its first Memorial Day services on Monday at the new veterans memorial in the Pine River Cemetery.
Post members began the ceremony by asking for a moment of silence to acknowledge the loved ones of those killed in battle.
“The grief from a loss may change over the years, but it never leaves us,” said Richard Schleeter, the post president and a Gulf War veteran. He also is the veterans’ service officer for La Plata County.
While only a small percentage of Americans serve in the U.S. armed forces today, more than one million people have given their lives in the service of their country.
“These were ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” Schleeter said. Since World War II, 82,368 soldiers have gone missing in action, he added.
What would those who made the ultimate sacrifice think of today’s divisive political landscape? That question was asked by Guinn Unger, a Forest Lakes resident who served for 28 years in the U.S. Army Reserves.
He asked the gathered crowd of about 100 people to find someone with a different political view to shake hands and say, “We’re all Americans.” Such an action is small, “but it’s a way for us to become a United States again.”
The post particularly thanked Vietnam War veterans, who are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the conflict. The U.S. Department of Defense is honoring all veterans who served from 1955 to 1973 in the Vietnam War Commemoration.
The veterans memorial in Bayfield has been built over the last two years, largely with volunteer labor, in-kind contributions and donations from local groups and businesses. It was formally dedicated last year two days before Memorial Day, on May 27, 2017.
Tony Schrier, the adjutant for the Bayfield post, presented plaques to the memorial donors: Billy Goat Saloon; Faust family; Frahm family; Hillyer family and Southwest Ag; Eagle Block; HDS Freight; Lewis True-Value Mercantile; Mike’s Concrete Services; Bart Iverson, who provided the masonry for the project; Pine River Rotary; Pine River Senior Center; First National Bank of Durango; Bayfield Lions Club; Four Corners Materials, which provided the concrete base; and Pine River Cemetery, which donated some lots for the memorial, while others were purchased to complete it.
Finally, the Pine River Valley Heritage Society made both a cash contribution, then bought the first memorial bricks to honor the 17 men from the Bayfield area who fought in World War II.
The front of the memorial has bricks commemorating those killed in action from Bayfield, then the side and back bricks honor local veterans and the memorial donors.
Post members plan to build a podium this summer at the memorial, with space for a few dozen more commemorative bricks. Behind the commemorative panels, the U.S., POW and Colorado flags fly 24 hours a day and are lit at night.