EAGLE COUNTY — Memorial Day is just another three-day weekend for many of us. But there’s a much deeper meaning for those who have served in our country’s armed forces.
These days, most of us know or know of, someone in the service but the distance has become greater since our armed forces are made up only of volunteers. But it wasn’t always that way. Our cemeteries, especially those in towns more than 100 years old, are dotted with flags today. That’s part of the mission of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, or VFW — to put a flag on the grave of every American who has served in the military. In the Vail Valley, volunteers from Boy Scouts to retired people help the local VFW fulfill that mission.
In some places, that adds up to a lot of flags. Red Cliff today is the county’s smallest town, but it’s also the oldest.
Pete Thompson, a Vail resident and veteran of the Vietnam War, is this year’s commander of the local VFW chapter. He and a group of Boy Scouts decorated graves last week. Thompson said he was moved by the experience.
“It’s amazing — there were graves of Civil War veterans, Spanish-American War veterans,” Thompson said.
Not all of the men in those graves were killed in combat. But all served, and many were in combat.
That’s one reason why many veterans are saddened by Memorial Day’s transformation into just another day off. That started in 1971, when Congress moved several national holidays from specific dates to Mondays near those dates in order to create three-day weekends. Before that Memorial Day had been celebrated on May 30, starting in 1868, three years after the Civil War ended.
The transformation of Memorial Day into just another holiday rankles some veterans. But Thompson is philosophical about the change.
“It is more of a vacation day now,” Thompson said. “But who am I to reverse that? For us veterans, we’re responsible for Memorial Day.”
And that day still has power for veterans. Local veteran David Rozelle is running in today’s Vail Valor Race, an event that benefits the Vail Veterans Program, which brings injured veterans to the valley for some much-needed recreation. In an email about the holiday, Rozelle wrote:
“Memorial Day is a special day for me and my family. It is the day we celebrate those who served before me that have passed and become part of our proud family lineage that goes back to the American Revolution. These last 12 years of war, Memorial Day is the day that we pause to think about my soldiers and friends that were killed in combat. When I cross a finish line, I always salute the fallen. This Memorial Day will be no different in Vail as I salute all who have made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Veterans in the valley can also be counted on to support the local VFW. Longtime member Buddy Sims, who spent a career in the Air Force, said the local group has just more than 100 full members and more than 300 “associate” members — veterans who didn’t participate in combat. Sims said a small core group meets regularly, but an email blast can round up numbers, and quickly, whether it’s to talk to school kids about Veterans Day, march in a parade, or present the colors at a high school graduation.
For these veterans, it’s all about service. And honor. And kinship with others who have served.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.