Never forgotten: Steamboat veterans uphold Memorial Day traditions with public health precautions
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It was a sunny evening on Thursday when local veterans gathered at the Steamboat Springs Cemetery to place flags on the graves of those who gave their lives in the line of duty.
While this has been a longstanding tradition ahead of Memorial Day, some changes had to be made due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In previous years, the Boy Scouts helped with the honor. This year, veterans upheld the tradition themselves, breaking into smaller groups and donning face masks to meet public health guidelines.
Despite these atypical precautions, the essence of Memorial Day remains the same. To honor those who have served their country, Steamboat veterans from VFW Post 4264 and American Legion Post 44 are carrying out traditional ceremonies for the holiday.
On Monday, they will gather to conduct a private Memorial Day Service at 11 a.m. at the Steamboat Springs Cemetery. It will feature speeches from veterans, the lowering of the flag and the recognition of POWs and MIAs.
It also will include a special celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Allied victory in Europe, according to Steamboat Springs veteran Jim Stanko. He and his fellow veterans will read the names of the locals who died in World War II, place a wreath on a monument dedicating the war, then fire a round of rifles and blow a horn in their honor.
Another ceremony will take place at 6 p.m. at the Hayden Cemetery, 25 miles west of Steamboat.
To Marine Corps veteran John “Doc” Daughenbaugh, the importance of remembering those who served goes beyond the annual holiday. For the past several years, he has been working on a project to compile biographies of all Routt County veterans.
“What I’m trying to do is interview each of our members in the VFW and American Legion and find out more about what they did in the service,” Daughenbaugh explained. “Even a small town like we have here, the background and experiences of our members is just amazing.”
Among the veterans included in the compilation is Larry Monger, who served during the Vietnam War from 1969 to 1971. As a member of the Army, he spent much of his time in a bunker near Laos. During a siege under the Tet Offensive, one of the largest military campaigns of the war, Monger helped to direct artillery strikes, successfully fending off the North Vietnamese when they attacked a nearby village.
When he returned home from the war, his first priority was to become a lifetime member of the American Legion. His father, Lloyd, a decorated World War II veteran, also was a member of the Legion until his death in 2004.
For Monger, upholding the traditions of Memorial Day is as much a way to remember his father as to honor all of those who served.
“We need to show respect for those that passed away,” Monger said.
Instilled in the minds of many veterans is the obligation to commemorate those who came before, said Paula Gregory, who served 25 years in the Air Force, working cyber operations. She retired from the service five years ago.
While she acknowledged that Memorial Day celebrations will look different under the current pandemic, she remains dedicated to its traditions.
“The meaning hasn’t changed. It’s just how we express it,” Gregory said, who has been a member of the American Legion since she moved to Steamboat two years ago.
To Gregory, serving in the military has been a family legacy. Her father, sister and brother-in-law also have served in the Air Force. Such deep ties to the military have instilled a profound sense of duty in Gregory to uphold the values of Memorial Day, no matter the circumstances.
“These are important traditions,” she said. “You want to keep them going.”
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