Local Memorial Day ceremonies honor military, emergency responders | VailDaily.com

Local Memorial Day ceremonies honor military, emergency responders

EAGLE COUNTY — Almost every Memorial Day ceremony includes a prayer for peace, because no one loves peace more than those who have survived war.

Rabbi Joel Newman, commander in the Navy Chaplain Corps, was striking in his dress whites as he delivered that prayer Monday afternoon at Freedom Park in Edwards.

Monday morning, Army Chaplain Rev. Jeremiah Harris prayed a similar prayer atop Tennessee Pass at the 10th Mountain Division Memorial.

Life amid the death

Sometimes, in the midst of all that abhorrent war, life happens.

Sandy Treat and Crosby Perry-Smith fought with the 10th Mountain Division in World War II. Sen. Michael Bennet looked them in their eyes and smiled as he moved what could have been a Memorial Day political event away from politics and toward the personal.

Recommended Stories For You

Bennet's grandparents were Polish Jews swept up in the horrors of the Holocaust. They were the only ones in their family who lived.

"The rest of their family was wiped out," Bennet said. "The U.S. Armed Forces had saved their shattered lives, and this was the one country where they could rebuild their lives."

"On their behalf, I want to say thank you," he said to Treat and Perry-Smith.

"In those days they called us ski troops. Later they changed it to mountain troops because wars are fought all year long," Treat said.

Willingness to sacrifice

Lt. Gen. Lawson Magruder III is a former commanding general of the 10th Mountain Division. A lifetime of skiing and outdoor adventure left him with a replacement knee and hip. His doctor told him to give it up. He may have to give up doctors.

Magruder's father served in the infantry in World War II landing at Utah Beach, and saw the worst fighting in Korea and Vietnam. Magruder launched his career in Vietnam.

"Both my dad and I lost soldiers in combat," Magruder said.

Magruder was a young lieutenant when he lost eight soldiers in Vietnam.

"Those who continue to protect our freedoms in this very volatile world in which we now live have what I call the willingness to sacrifice," Magruder said.

It's their willing donation of personal comfort and safety, "often risking injury and death in order to accomplish the mission that my soldiers and my country expect of me," Magruder said.

What all soldiers in all wars have in common is strength of character, which picks up where training ends.

"Those of us who have been in combat know that training only takes you so far, when facing a determined enemy on a ground that he chooses," Magruder said. "Fear is a soldier's constant companion on the battlefield, and success depends as much on the character of a soldier as it does on his skill with a weapon."

Since 9/11, the 10th Mountain Division has been America's most-deployed unit — 10 times in 15 years to places like Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq in this war on terror.

When crossing the Po River and other operations in World War II, more than 1,000 men died and 3,871 were wounded.

"That, folks, is more than half the division," Magruder said.

Pray for peace

In Freedom Park they read "In Flanders Field," a World War I poem by John McCrae. They read the names of Eagle County's fallen soldiers and emergency responders, as a bell tolled for each one.

Taps followed a 21-gun salute.

A benediction prayer for peace hung in the hearts and minds of Americans free to come and go as they please.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.