Eagle Valley remembers its heroes

Photo courtesy of the Vail Veterans Program

EDWARDS — This year’s Memorial Day ceremony was right where it should be, in Freedom Park between an American flag flying at half mast and the Pentagon limestone that was blasted from the Pentagon during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Like the country it represents, the Freedom Park flag didn’t stay down. It was whisked to the top of the flag pole as the benediction was finished by pastor Rick Webster of Christ Church Anglican, Eagle Valley.

Memorial Day started early in Vail. The Vail Valor Half Marathon went off Monday morning, a benefit run for the Vail Veterans Program. Atop Tennessee Pass, dozens of veterans, families and others gathered at the 10th Mountain Division memorial. A few could still fit into their uniforms.

Some made their way down to Freedom Park in Edwards for the local VFW’s Memorial Day ceremony.

Keynote speaker Lt. Col. (retired) Bernie Krueger, is a Battle Mountain High School graduate, attended the U.S. Naval Academy and fought in Iraq.

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The weather was warm and windy, and the crowd in Freedom Park was respectable but not huge.

“We know where they are, they’re enjoying their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Krueger said. “Service men and women fight for those freedoms. I suspect if you’d ask any of our fallen brothers and sisters if they minded, I’d say they don’t. They’d only ask that you take a minute to remember and honor their sacrifice.”

And on Monday, several did.

Krueger flew helicopters in Iraq, usually at night but sometimes in the day. During those daylight flights he noticed the lack or recreation. No one was in the rivers, or in the thousands of square miles of desert on their ATVs. They weren’t out there because they weren’t allowed to be,” Krueger said.

On his flight home from Iraq, his plane flew over Cape Hatteras. He saw thousands of boat wakes on the ocean.

“I realized it was Memorial Day,” Krueger said. “It was a stark contrast to see everyone doing what they should be doing on Memorial Day, enjoying our freedoms.”

Krueger’s voice cracked a little as he spoke. Pat Hammon, a nurse in Vietnam, observed that “It’s not all like ‘Top Gun.’”

During the past 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 7,000 Americans have given the ultimate sacrifice, and hundreds of thousands before that.

“Take a moment to remember,” Krueger said.

The valley’s five surviving World War II veterans were introduced: Herb Rubenstein, Sandy Treat, Dick Dirkes, Ernie Brown and Alan Aron. No longer with us are Smokey Matheson, who died a couple of weeks ago, and Higinio Romero, who founded the local VFW post.

For each fallen veteran’s name read, a replica of the 9/11 bell was rung by local Boy Scouts.

“Memorial Day is a special day for me and my family,” said Lt. Col. David Rozelle before Monday’s Vail Valor Half Marathon. “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 who 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.”

Closing the ceremony in Freedom Park, local Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts held a flag retirement ceremony. It’s a somber, dignified event, in keeping with the dignity of the way flags are supposed to be treated by those who honor what it stands for.

When flags become worn and ragged, they’re retired. Among the flags retired were those placed on the graves of local veterans, placed there during past Memorial Day ceremonies.

“The U.S. flag should be treated with respect when it’s flying and when it’s being retired,” Boy Scouts said during the ceremony.

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