Honoring Our Fallen Heroes and Remembering America’s Forgotten War

Large Crowd Partakes in Annual Memorial Day Ceremony at WP Cemetery

Rick Langenberg

Teller County is veterans’ country, with the region abounding with probably one of the largest residential hubs of active and former military personnel on a per capita basis than possibly anywhere in the nation.

As a result, Memorial Day and weekend remembrances have taken on special meaning, with local ceremonies growing in popularity and scores of emotional speeches occurring and special flowers decorating gravesites of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

This same theme resonated again during this year’s annual ceremony, held at the Woodland Park Cemetery, during which a specific fallen hero is honored. The ceremony has attracted growing crowds and is organized by the local posts of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

For the 2024 ceremony, held on May 27, the focus turned towards what many still regard as America’s forgotten war, the Vietnam saga.  A special remembrance tribute was made for Seargeant James Edward Lynch, a former pilot with the Air Force, who fought in the Vietnam War and died nearly 15 years after conflict ended.  It was a conflict that produced many wounds, with veterans receiving a rocky reception due to the opposition against the war and mixed views it generated.

Seargeant Lynch died as a young man around the age of 45, with few details surfacing regarding his death.  Local veteran leaders, though, say they wanted to honor his service.

“We try to focus on a different veteran every year and felt it was important to recognize Sgt. Lynch,” said Teller County Commissioner Dan Williams, a 30-year-combat veteran himself, who gave the keynote speech.  For Williams, this conflict is quite personal as his father served in Vietnam and he knew many veterans scared by the conflict. Williams wasn’t afraid to describe in detail the immense bravery by those who served in Vietnam.

This year’s ceremony featured comments by two local mayors; Kellie Case and Annie Durham, who represented Woodland Park and Cripple Creek; Williams, and a number of local veteran leaders. All three county commissioners attended.  In addition, number of other well-known dignitaries participated in the ceremony, including former WP Councilman Frank Connors, who helped the lead the gun salute, honoring Seargeant Lynch.

The ceremony, in earlier years, hardly attracted any in-person viewers. But that is not the case now, as the annual remembrance function has actually become a trademark event when it comes to honoring forgotten heroes and area veterans.

“It is amazing how popular this event has become,” said Andy Tyler, commander of the VFW Post 6051, who said they now get up to 20 people just to help out with the preparation for the ceremony, and in adorning the graves.  He admitted that the event has grown in popularity in the last five or so years

Many participants appreciate the theme of the event, honoring fallen heroes, and are surprised at Teller County’s connection to many of the major national and international conflicts. During last year’s ceremony, a number of residents were shocked to hear about the Colorado and Teller County links with the Civil War.

Plus, the setting of the remembrance ceremony, inside the Woodland Park Cemetery, often gives the event a quaint, serene atmosphere often lacking in larger veteran tributes.  Special care is given to the presentation of flowers on military graves.

Tyler gave the main background comments, outlining the history of Memorial Day, which stems back to the Civil War, and was originally described as Decoration Day.

Emotional sentiments were not masked during the Memorial Day remembrance event this year.

Durham came close to tears in her short remarks as she commented on the divisiveness that now exists in our country, amounting to a level that is more than she has experienced in her lifetime. At the same time, she lauded the sacrifice made by veterans for the sake of preserving our freedom and democracy and the importance of maintaining a patriotic spirit.

Similar comments were made by Case, who cited the area’s tradition in honoring veterans.

A Tough War with Little Glory for Returning Vets

Williams outlined the tough fight many veterans faced in the early part of the Vietnam War, a conflict that produced nearly  60,000 American military fatalities and close to 300,000 among the Vietnamese soldiers in a war that lasted for 20 years.  But many more Americans died from after-affects associated from the war in later years, such as Agent Orange.

Unlike many other wars, Williams noted that returning vets did not experience a hero’s welcome.

As he often gets in tributes to veterans, Willams became extremely emotional when outlining the patriotic tradition associated with this great remembrance occasion.

“Again, our nation has assembled to honor its heroic dead. A thousand battles of land and sea, and air echo the glory of their valiant deeds. Under the quiet sod or beneath the murmuring waves, their bodies sleep in peace. But in the destinies of veterans, their souls go marching on. Because of them, our lives are free. Because of them, our nation lives.

“On this Memorial Day, let us pledge ourselves anew to patriotic service. Let us make ourselves the friend and brother, son and father, of those who will not see their own again in mortal flesh. Let us grasp with fearless hands, the flag so nobly borne before, and like those others, plant it always on the battlements of righteousness.”

Following the tribute, the Teller commissioner cited the importance of these types of events due to the division that currently exists in our country and even our region, when speaking with a small group of veterans. “Our kids are watching,” he commented when talking about the importance of these functions, which he believes serve as healing touch of unity.