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Salute to veterans

Residents come out in force to support veterans’ contributions to our way of life

Trumpets, drums, choral singers and rumbling motorcycles were all heard at the annual Cortez Veterans Day parade on Tuesday.

Lining Montezuma Avenue, hundreds of young and old gathered to wave American flags, cheer and honor all who had served in the U.S. military. The parade included scores of veterans in regalia carrying rifles, an antique roadster with a MIA/POW flag, Girl Scouts marching alongside a wheelchair bound veteran and a dog in the lap of a lady wearing red, white and blue on a horse-drawn carriage.

“I’m just glad they remembered us,” said one veteran. “There are a lot of towns that don’t have a Veterans Day parade.”

More than three dozen organizations entered the parade, including the Blue Star Moms, Daughters of the American Revolution, high school and middle school bands and the Mesa Howlers. Parade organizer John Shriner was thankful for the support.

“We want the community be involved,” said the retired Army veteran.

Despite the success, some veterans reportedly boycotted the event because they wanted the parade route to be returned to Main Street. One veteran said he and his comrades should receive the level of recognition of a homecoming queen or Santa Claus.

“There were quite a few veterans that were upset,” said Fran Marciano, a bartender at the American Legion. “They take exception that the parade is not on Main Street.”

Shriner explained the route was changed to Montezuma Avenue several years ago after officials failed to seek the proper permit from the Colorado Department of Transportation.

“It worked so well, we‘ve kept the parade on Montezuma Avenue,” he said.

Shriner, who had patrolled the German border during the Cold War, said Montezuma Avenue was a safer route for children to view the parade, and attendance had grown annually since the change.

“It’s a better venue,” said Shriner. “It has a quieter, more hometown feel.”

City Manager Shane Hale, also a veteran, said he preferred the Montezuma Avenue route, saying it was a more intimate setting. He added that the city would support the parade no matter the route.

“Veterans have sacrificed so much of themselves for our freedom. They spent long periods time away from their families, worked extremely long hours and put themselves in harm’s way without a second thought,” said Hale. “Setting aside a time and place to recognize these men and women is the absolute least that we can do.”

Cortez Police Chief Roy Lane said he didn’t have an attendance estimate for Tuesday’s parade, but added it was one of the largest crowds in recent memory.

Breakfast with a veteran

At a Veterans Day breakfast to honor military personnel and their families, retired U.S. sailor Bobby Cowan graciously shared his story over pancakes, sausage links, scrambled eggs and coffee.

At age 17, Cowan left his hometown of Cortez to join the Navy in 1977. During his 25-year military career, Cowan served as an onboard firefighter, welder and paramedic. He especially enjoyed serving as a survival instructor, training military personnel how to endure enemy capture.

“The skills I learned in the Navy prepared me for life outside the military,” said Cowan, who is now a Kinder Morgan pipeline controller.

His wife of nearly 35 years, Becky Cowan, said the military also made her stronger. Her husband was sometimes deployed for nine months at a time, forcing her to occasionally serve as both parents to the couple’s two children.

“Being a military wife and family wasn’t always easy,” she said. “We all had to make sacrifices.”

After raising two children in California, the Cowan’s returned to Montezuma County in 2007.

At the breakfast, American Legion Post 75 Commander Marvin Hermanns said veterans like Cowan helped to guarantee the nation’s freedoms.

“Freedom is paid for by the blood, sweat and tears of our men and women in the armed forces,” he said.

Tribute in Dolores

Sacrifice. Honor. Service. Freedom. Those words gained deeper meaning during an impressive Veterans Day assembly at Dolores Schools. Nearly 1,000 students, citizens and veterans attended the 90-minute ceremony, complete with performances from the school band and choir.

“Every year, it gets better and better,” said Superintendent Scott Cooper. “This year was the best yet.”

Veterans from each branch of the military were asked to stand and be recognized. Five empty chairs represented veterans still missing or taken prisoner.

“They call them MIA/POW; we call them brothers,” a student said. “They are here in spirit.”

Another student urged the audience to be mindful of the battle scars that endure for so many veterans long after combat.

A local Vietnam veteran, met with scorn upon his return in 1970 from anti-war crowds, said the event offered some closure.

“Thank you Dolores schools for this assembly,” said the Navy veteran. “I finally got my welcome home.”

Outreach Center opened

About 50 people gathered for the grand opening of a new veterans outreach center in Cortez on Tuesday. Located at the intersection of South Market and West First streets, the center aims to serve as a one-stop source for assistance, benefits and jobs as well as a gathering place for veterans.

“This center is going to be very important,” said retired Air Force Master Sgt. Charles Grasse, who served from 1952 to 1982. “It’s going to be a place where like-minded people can get together to socialize and tell war stories.”

Made possible by volunteers, the 1930s-era structure was renovated this year to include a library, a conference room and computer lab. A small collection of books, including Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway; furniture and a television; along with kitchen cabinets and a refrigerator were all made possible by support from private citizens and local businesses.

“We have been fortunate as veterans in this community,” said Darla Sanders, adjutant commander of the local Disabled American Veterans. “The community support we’ve received has just been awesome.”

Officials are hopeful three computers will soon be donated to help veterans find employment.

“We want to partner with local businesses to recruit veterans for open positions,” said retired Army veteran Robert Valencia. “When you hire a vet, you know you’re getting a good employee.”

Montezuma County Veteran Service Officer Rick Torres reminded veterans that his office would not be moving to the outreach center. Veterans seeking VA benefits should visit Torres at 107 N. Chestnut Street or call him at 564-2779.