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Honoring all who served

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Gilpin County School celebrates Veterans Day

By Patty Unruh

“I have been in 32 different countries, and this is the most amazing country in the world. We are so blessed…” “I’m glad I was able to serve for you… ” “Any of us would do it again in a heartbeat. We love this country. Make sure it stays the land of the free.”

This past Monday, November 10, local veterans expressed what military service and their country meant to them as Gilpin County School paid tribute to the vets at the annual Veterans Day celebration. The program was a stirring tribute to the men and women who have served freedom-loving people everywhere.

Students, military leaders, and veterans all contributed to the event, which was organized by Gilpin High School teacher Su Henry and National Honor Society students. The middle school band, directed by Gary Haarbye, began with patriotic selections; West High School ROTC cadets presented the colors; Sgt. First Class Jose M. Caraballo (ret.) solemnly placed the POW/MIA flag; Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts led the Pledge of Allegiance; high school sophomore Lindsey James performed the National Anthem.

Superintendent David MacKenzie welcomed the crowd and turned the master of ceremony duties over to high school seniors Eric Castillo, Alyssa Chareunsouk, and Stephanie Siegrist.

Chareusouk summarized the history of Veterans Day. Fighting in World War I came to an end following the signing of an armistice between the Allies and Germany that called for a ceasefire effective at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918. That day – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month — became Armistice Day, a day to honor veterans of “the war to end all wars.” In 1954, following World War II and the Korean War, Congress changed the name to Veterans Day. November 11 is now a day to honor veterans of all wars.

Active duty military guests gave brief addresses. Major Susan Murphy, from Buckley Air Force Base, had served for 28 years, been deployed overseas twice, and was proud to fight for the freedoms our country stands for.

“Honor, tradition, family, friends … it’s the best of the best,” Murphy stated.

SrA Timothy Duran, also from Buckley AFB, related the story of someone close to him who perished in the Aurora Theater shooting, covering another person with his own body. “He made the ultimate sacrifice, and that is what Veterans Day means to me.”

Kathleen Schrader and Kay Lorenz represented the Daughters of the American Revolution, which supports veterans. The Evergreen chapter plans to expand its reach to Gilpin County through a project remembering the veterans in Gilpin cemeteries through commemorative photos and plaques.

Jimmy Stewart spoke on the Wounded Warrior Project. He and his fellow volunteers greet the vets at Denver’s airport and show them what will be possible for them at Paralympics events in Snowmass.

“I’m not a vet, but this is how I give back,” he said. He told of veterans participating in snow hockey, rock climbing, kayaking, scuba diving, shooting, and skiing. “At first they are nervous, but after a week of doing these events, they are fired up.”

Military service in the families of students and staff was acknowledged, dozens of students standing with pride all over the gymnasium when their class was invited to show military connections.

The centerpiece of the occasion, however, was the veterans’ service salute – a time for visiting veterans to introduce themselves. More than a dozen men and women stood and told the assembly of their service experience. Many branches of the service were represented. Some had served in Viet Nam, some in Germany, Okinawa, Afghanistan. There was even a Korean War veteran, frail but proud.

Some had seen the Berlin Wall; others recalled it’s dismantling 25 years ago this month. “We’ve come a long ways in world freedom,” veteran John Blake asserted.

J.J. Henry was grateful for the support she received as a veteran and as a cancer patient. Bob Masslich gave thanks for support from the student body. Gilpin teacher Angela MacKenzie told of her service in Germany before rejoining her class.

Teo Dominguez, Commander of the American Legion for 25 years and a past commander of the VFW, shared about the memorial being worked on at the Gilpin Community Center.

A moment of silence and the playing of taps by eighth graders Jake Duncan and Chase Besiallon followed, along with the poem “Veterans Day,” read by Ms. Huxley’s fourth grade class and “Fifty Nifty United States,” sung by the fifth graders.

Key speaker was James Ysebaert, Chief Warrant Officer 3. Ysebaert retired in 2012 after 22 years in the U.S. Army. He served in Afghanistan and Iraq and now works as a senior instructor with the Junior ROTC in Denver. He asked, “What Is a Veteran?”

“To me, it is someone who has shared the same experiences as me – waking up at 0-dark-thirty, cooks with bad attitudes, waiting on the tarmac with the wind at 30 knots. Once, they even made us pick up pinecones to make the woods look nicer.”

Ysebaert expressed pride in our state, noting that 24 men in Colorado were recipients of the Medal of Honor. He praised the bravery of young men and women in the face of global terrorism, giving special tribute to Danny Dietz, a U.S. Navy SEAL who at age 25 died in the war in Afghanistan while conducting counterterror operations. Dietz, a graduate of Heritage High School, was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.

“Every sacrifice that is made is vital to our great nation,” Ysebaert concluded.

May we continue to be grateful to the valiant men and women who protect our freedoms. In the words of the fifth grade class, “Thank you, veterans!”

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