Hundreds of people across Routt County will visit local cemeteries Monday — a day set aside to honor fallen veterans, as well as those who have served our country. |

Routt County ready to shine light on fallen veterans as part of Memorial Day services

A rifle squad conducts a 21-gun salute as Taps is played at the 2018 Memorial Day service in Steamboat Springs.
Lisa Schlichtman

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Hundreds of people across Routt County will visit local cemeteries Monday — a day set aside to honor fallen veterans, as well as those who have served our country.

“I think what makes it a huge event, and what should keep making it a huge event, is the tradition of Memorial Day,” said Jim Stanko, adjutant with American Legion Post 44. “The American Legion held the first Memorial Day (ceremony) in 1921, and they actually did a parade down main street. The businesses closed down, and they marched down main street and went up to the cemetery … at that time, they only decorated three graves because they were only decorating the graves of World War I veterans at that time.”

That year, the community recognized Guy Utter, who was killed in action, James Noyce, who died after the plane he was flying crashed in training, and Dan Fletcher, who was touted as a hero for his efforts in the Aragon Forest. He was not killed in action but died later in Steamboat Springs.

“We have done a Memorial Day ever since because I have been tracing it through the newspapers,” Stanko said.

This year, the American Legion Post is celebrating 100 years. The Memorial Day ceremony will take place at 11 a.m. Monday, May 27, at the Steamboat Springs Cemetery. The group has been a part of local Memorial Day events for the last 98 years.

“It really makes us feel good,” Stanko said of the Memorial Day ceremony. “It’s a chance to show a little patriotic spirit. Last year, more than 200 people were willing to give their time to honor those who stood up and made the sacrifice for all of us.”

Steamboat lost two young men in action in World War I, two in World War II, three in the Korean War and two more in Vietnam. Nine soldiers from Steamboat Springs have died in action, but on Monday, all 297 soldiers who are buried in the Steamboat Springs cemetery will be honored.

This 1958 photograph shows Memorial Day events at the Steamboat Springs Cemetery.
Courtesy photo

Stanko encourages folks attending the event to show up early. He said it’s a great time to catch up with old friends and a chance to tour the cemetery where Boy Scouts from Troop 194 and cadets from the Civil Air Patrol Squadron have placed flags on each of the veterans’ graves.

He said Steamboat Springs Transit will provide bus service from the Stockbridge Transit Center starting at 9:40 a.m. with the last bus leaving for the ceremony at 10:40 a.m. Buses will begin departing the ceremony following the service.

“This is a great service to get to the cemetery without the hassle of driving,” Stanko said.

He said parking is very limited at the cemetery, and things run a lot more smoothly if visitors take advantage of the buses.

“It’s something that we take great pride in and put a lot of work into,” said Gaylon Kent about the Memorial Day services planned in Steamboat, Yampa, Oak Creek and Hayden.

Kent is commander of the 14th District of the American Legion that represents a large chunk of Northwestern Colorado.

In South Routt, Memorial Day services will take place at 11 a.m. in Yampa and 1 p.m. in Oak Creek.

For Gary Burkholder, adjutant for the Bird-Howe American Legion Post 189 in South Routt, the day takes on a special meaning. His father and grandfather served in World War II and his family has a long history of serving in the military.

“I’m really connected to it,” Burkholder said. “It’s a special day, and it is great to honor those who gave their lives for our country.”

In Hayden, ceremonies will begin at 6 p.m. in the Hayden Cemetery and will be followed by a free hamburger dinner at the Legion Hut at 220 South Third St. immediately following the ceremony. This year is special for past Hayden American Legion Post Commander Rodney McGowen because it marks 75 years since American troops landed on the beaches of Normandy.

“That’s a really big turning point in the history of the world,” McGowen said. “I don’t think that generation gets enough acknowledgement for what they did to save the world from tyranny.”

McGowen has been a part of preparing and celebrating Memorial Day in Hayden for more than 15 years.

“It always strikes me how many flags there are,” McGowen said. “There are over 200, and as you look across the cemetery and see all those flags blowing in the wind, it is really humbling.”

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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