Longmont Veterans, Families Gather on Memorial Day to Help ‘make Sure We Keep Remembering’

May 28, 2018 GMT

It’s been nearly 70 years since Longmont resident Wes Stiller fought in the Korean War, but he still remembers losing comrades in battle.

Seeing one of his friends die from a particularly gruesome wound gives him nightmares to this day.

“That has stuck so vividly in my mind after all these years,” Stiller said. “After all these years, I still can’t forget it.”

Stiller, who was wounded twice and is a member of Military Order of the Purple Heart, said it’s that memory that keeps him coming to ceremonies such as the one at Mountain View Cemetery in Longmont on Monday morning.

He was joined on this Memorial Day by more than 100 veterans and their families to hang wreaths and remember the dead. Small American flags graced the headstones — many of which recently were polished by a contingent of Young Marines — bearing names like Capt. GW Brown, Raymond Merriam White and Jno. Dawson.

The overcast skies made the solemn occasion perhaps even more so as the American Legion honor guard fired a 21-gun salute while the American flag was raised from half to full mast to the haunting melody of “Taps.”

It was the third such ceremony of the day in Longmont.

John Reid, a former Marine and senior vice commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, told the audience that he escorted the body of Sgt. William C. Stacey home to his parents in Seattle in 2012, and he said telling Stacey’s mother that her son was “finally home” was one of the hardest things he’s ever had to do.

Stacey, 23, was killed by an improvised explosive device while on foot patrol in Afghanistan’s Helmand province on his fourth tour of duty. He wrote an “in case of death letter” from which Reid read on Monday.

In the letter, Stacey wrote that his death might not have changed the world, but it had meaning because it might have effected positive change in the life of a child.

“He is going to grow into a fine man who will pursue every opportunity his heart can desire,” Stacey wrote. “If my life buys the safety of a child who will one day change this world, then I will know it was all worth it.”

Memorial Day’s origins stretch back to the aftermath of the Civil War, during which as many as 750,000 soldiers died.

Congress officially recognized Waterloo, N.Y. — where townspeople decorated the graves of Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War — on May, 5, 1866. Civil War historian James McPherson told another story of a northern abolitionist who traveled to Charleston, S.C., to organize schools for freed slaves and led a group of black children to a cemetery for Union soldiers on May 5, 1865, to “spread flowers on their graves.” Another version credits southern women who began decorating graves in 1865.

Longs Peak VFW Post Cmdr. Justin R. Knutzen — a U.S. Air Force veteran who served in Iraq — said he wants people to remember that Memorial Day, and the entire three-day weekend, is about more than just barbecues and an extra day off from work.

Asked what the day means personally to him, he said that his college roommate died after his B-52 crashed during a training exercise off the coast of Guam. The crash, which happened in 2008, killed all six people aboard.

“His name was James K. Dodson,” Knutzen said. “He died doing what he loved. ... This day is important for me and to all people who’ve lost friends, family and loved ones. I want to make sure we keep remembering.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

John Bear: 303-473-1355, bearj@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/johnbearwithme