Memorial Day service held at Homelake Veterans Cemetery


MONTE VISTA – The sun was high in the sky, and the mood was somber and peaceful for the Memorial Day service at the Homelake Veterans Cemetery on May 27.

Approximately 200 people celebrated all Veterans who gave their life for the United States.

The service was organized by the Colorado Veterans Living Community Center at Homelake. The emcee was Rio Grande County Service Officer and retired US Air Force member Jack Rudder. He thanked everyone for attending the ceremony.

Following the Pledge of Allegiance, an opening prayer was given by Steve Dunkel, retired US Army member and pastor of the Methodist Church.

Rudder then introduced Keynote Speaker Col. Ret. William (Skip) Schoen, who gave a heartfelt speech.

“It is truly an honor to be here today,” Schoen said. “I’m here this morning to be able to share a few words and thoughts on what Memorial Day means, and the history of Memorial Day with some of its significance that hits close to home.”

Schoen, who is also the top administrator for Rio Grande County, spoke of how proud he was in the past year to have met the family of fallen Army Sgt. Faith Hinkley and the family of fallen Marine Sgt. Glen Martinez.

“They are a very big reason why we do things like we are doing here today,” he said, before diving into the history of Memorial Day.

“The Civil War was not the first conflict to bloody, this collection of people known as Americans, and as we know would certainly not be the last conflict. Its impact, however, was profound. The combined number of Union and Confederate soldiers killed in the Civil War was estimated to be between 620,000, and 750,000. With the total American population in 1860 of only 31 and a half million people including four million slaves, the impact to homes was nearly every American household was impacted by the conflict between the union and the confederacy. Some in almost unimaginable ways. Those left at home lived in constant fear over the prospect of sons, husbands, brothers, or fathers who would be killed. Newspaper reading reached an all-time high as people scanned the newspapers every day, for a scrap of news that might mention their loved ones, or action involving their assigned regimen,” he said.

Schoen said that from April 12, 1861, to May 26,1865, many people at home received the news of their loved one’s deaths in battle. Schoen spoke of the surviving sisters of the Littleton Brothers, who were all from a farm family near Iowa.

“Ranging in ages from 16 to 33, Thomas, William, George, John, Kendal, and Noah, all enlisted in the Union cause, and served. All six of the brothers were killed in action, or died in a military accident between 1862, and 1864. The same tragedy has played out more than 630,000 times for American families at the end of the Civil War, and in every instance the delivery of this terrible news results in devastation for the loved ones of the fallen service members,” he said.

Schoen said that our story is no different as local servicemen and women from communities are honored for paying the ultimate price to help preserve independence for the nation and liberty for its people.

Schoen explained that what is now called Memorial Day began three years after the Civil War ended.

“In May, 1868, this began and was called Decoration Day, to establish a time for the nation to decorate the graves for fallen Americans. The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, and then grew from local observances in the north and the south,” he said.

Schoen said that the official birthplace of Memorial Day was in Waterloo, New York and was declared by congress and by President Lyndon B. Johnson, in 1966, honoring local Veterans who had fought in the Civil War.

“Businesses closed, and residents flew flags at half-staff, and by the end of the 19th century Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday, by an act of congress,” he said.

Schoen said that in Rio Grande County there are plaques in the county courthouse honoring Veterans who served in World War I and II. Schoen said while it saddens him that other plaques have not been added since World War II, he is glad that today’s gathering ensures that everyone who has served in all the nation’s conflicts will be honored for their many sacrifices.

“We are fortunate, to have Homelake Veterans Center here as a living example of our local, state, and national commitment to honor and care for our Veterans,” he said.

Schoen said he is proud of the community’s dedication to continually honoring its Veterans.

Schoen in closing said, “I thank you all for being here this morning and for the respect that you have shown for the heroes of this great nation that have paid the price of liberty and freedom, so the rest of us could have the opportunity to enjoy the bounty of their provisions. May the Lord bless all of those in our community. May the banner of freedom forever wave over our nation.”  

A wreath presentation was held in honor of the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Admissions and Marketing Director of the Homelake Veterans Living Center Pam Self then named the many Veterans who have passed away but that will not be forgotten, including local Pearl Harbor survivor George Blake, who passed away earlier this month, stating, “It was an honor to know and care for you all.”

There was a closing prayer and a rifle salute. The ringing of the bell was then held for fallen Veterans. Retired Command Master Chief Petty Officer Rodney Rosacker and his wife Debra tolled the bell for their son Randal Rosacker of the USMC, who passed away in 2003 in Iraq.

Ron and Carol Martinez tolled the bell in honor of their son Sgt. Glen Martinez, who passed away in 2008 in Iraq.

David Hinkley tolled the bell in memory of his daughter Sgt. Faith Hinkley, who passed away in August of 2010 in Iraq.

At approximately 10:40 a.m. there was a fly over by F-16s.

“The turnout and the weather out here are just beautiful,” Self said. “What a beautiful day to honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country. It is my honor to remember and honor our Homelake residents that have passed away this past year.”