Durangoans marked Memorial Day by remembering those who have died in the Middle East over the last 16 years.
“We remember and honor the sacrifice of all those who lost their lives serving our country,” said Chris Meyer of the Vietnam Veterans Association during a ceremony Monday in Iris Park.
Every Colorado service member who died fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 16 years was named during the ceremony and a rose was placed at the foot of the Vietnam Memorial in their honor.
Among the service members honored was Gabriel Conde, 22, who died four weeks ago in Afghanistan. The young man from Loveland was the first Coloradan killed in Afghanistan in more than four years.
Conde studied at the Colorado School of Mines before enlisting in the Army in 2015, Meyer said.
“He was a hero to his family, his country and to us,” Meyer said.
While only Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were named, the ceremony was a symbolic representation of all those lost in war, and members of the crowd were welcomed to call out the name of a service member on their minds.
Audience member Marty Bourjaily takes Memorial Day to remember her father, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and returned home missing a limb and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I honor him today,” she said.
In 2004, she was struck by the low attendance at the ceremony in Iris Park – only eight people attended. Afterward, she stormed home to write a letter to the editor urging residents to attend the next year. Since then, she has submitted a letter to The Durango Herald every year, encouraging people to attend the Memorial Day ceremonies. This year, the memorial in Iris Park drew about 100 people.
Former paramedic and firefighter Michael Sanders of Phoenix described the day as an opportunity to put politics and differences aside.
“We forget too easily the costs for what we have,” Sanders said.
The ceremony at Iris Park was followed by a memorial at Greenmount Cemetery, where WWII veteran Herman Todeschi, 95, was honored as the oldest veteran in attendance. A former Veterans of Foreign Wars post commander, Todeschi said he has always paid tribute to fallen military members on Memorial Day.
“It’s our honor to be able to participate,” he said.