Memorial Day may look different, but organizations plan to honor those who served
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Things are going to look different for Memorial Day 2020, but local veterans groups are determined to continue a tradition of recognizing those who have served their country even as the U.S. faces a new enemy during a pandemic.
“It is the duty of every veteran to remember their fallen comrades until it got down to the last veteran, and it’s just part of the military tradition,” Steamboat Springs veteran Jim Stanko said. “It’s the tradition that has kind of been instilled in all of us that as veterans we have an obligation to remember those that came before us.”
In order to comply with public health orders and to keep members safe from the spread of COVID-19, the American Legion Leo Hill Post #44 and VFW Post #4264 will conduct a private Memorial Day Service at 11 a.m. May 25 at the Steamboat Springs Cemetery.
The ceremony, which has been held annually since 1922, will be a bit shorter but is expected to feature a couple of speakers, the lowering of the flag, recognition of POWs and MIAs and a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Allied victory in Europe.
“We will recognize the veterans,” Stanko said. “There is right at 31 or 32 Routt County veterans that were killed in World War II, and we will read their names and place a wreath on the monument in their honor, and then, we will fire the guns, blow the horn and go home.”
The group will also head to the cemetery Thursday to place flags on the graves of all Routt County veterans. In the past, the Boys Scouts have helped with this honor, but this year, the members of the VFW and American Legion plan to take on the task by themselves, and in smaller groups, to meet county public health guidelines.
“Officers and members of the posts deeply appreciate the community support and attendance at past Memorial Day ceremonies, but in the interest of public safety and the county and state COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings, we feel a non-public ceremony is the best option,” Stanko said.
A ceremony is also planned 25 miles down U.S. Highway 40 at the Hayden Cemetery on May 25.
“The veterans of the Hayden community feel it is important to maintain our traditions by honoring those who have sacrificed for this nation,” said John Kregar, commander of American Legion Post 89 in Hayden. “We also respect and understand the laws and public health orders in place must be obeyed.”
A modified ceremony will begin at 6 p.m. at the Hayden Cemetery, but the traditional post-ceremony dinner will not happen this year.
Light a candle
- The American Legion is also encouraging communities far and wide to pay tribute to our nation’s fallen heroes at dusk May 25, Memorial Day, by lighting candles of honor and placing them on front porches. Stanko said people should light a red candle to remember the bloodshed in a battle for the protection of our freedoms, a white candle to keep our POWs and MIAs ever in our thoughts and prayers as we await their return home and a blue candle to salute the memories of those who made it home but are no longer with us.
Tune in and watch
- Stanko said the 2018 Steamboat Memorial Day ceremony will be re-broadcast at noon and 6 p.m. along with the 10th Mountain Tribute video. For those with Comcast the services will be on Channel 18, those with ROKU streaming device can add MTN TV via the Channel Store.
Decorating graves; visiting sites
- The cemeteries in Steamboat, Hayden and Yampa are open. State and county guidelines for gatherings should be observed. No more than 10 family members should gather at a gravesite, and families at different grave sites should maintain social distancing. Hayden is asking that decorations placed at the cemetery be picked up within 15 days after Memorial Day
“The formations for the ceremony will be in compliance with social distancing recommendations,” Kregar said. “To be in compliance with other public health orders, we are asking only post members that are a part of the ceremony attend at the Hayden Cemetery. We will be broadcasting the ceremony on a live internet feed at 6 p.m. for those who wish to observe it.”
While modified observances will take place in Steamboat and Hayden, there are no Memorial Day ceremonies planned in South Routt this year after events in Oak Creek or Yampa have been canceled to promote public safety.
“No, we are not holding them this year because of the social distancing and all that stuff,” said Ken Montgomery, commander of the Bird-Howe Post American Legion Post #189 in Yampa.
Montgomery, who has been with the Post for more than 40 years, said the tradition of putting flags on the graves will continue.
“We do that the night before,” Montgomery said. “A couple of members and their wives go down and put them out and then that evening, we’ll pick them back up. But that’s just in Yampa.”
While the pandemic has put limitations on this year’s ceremonies and added new safety restrictions, local veterans hold onto the hope that next year’s events will be bigger and even more special.
“Other than Ski Carnival this is one of the oldest continuing events in Steamboat,” Stanko said. “We are just going to do enough, because we don’t want to break the string of continuous events.”
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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