The Denver Post
Rebuilding Together Metro Denver is partnering with Sears to provide critical repairs to the home of Ethel Jones, 81. She and her late husband both served in the U.S. Air Force, and they raised four children; their oldest son is also a veteran, having retired from the U.S. Army after 20 years of service. Jones has lived in her home in east Denver for 40 years. She suffers from health issues that make it difficult to maintain her home.
Tom Wykstra walked tall toward a plot of land at the Colorado Capitol, picked up a shovel and a camouflage helmet so he could scoop a pile of dirt.
It meant years of hard work was paying off as he and other members of the Colorado Fallen Heroes Memorial Fund finally had raised enough money to build a monument. As a father, though, it was sorrowful. That’s because his son’s name will be on the memorial. Pfc. Jake Wykstra died May 28, 2014, in Afghanistan in an aircraft accident.
Wykstra and other officials kicked off construction Monday during a Veterans Day ceremony where 150 names of Coloradans killed in combat since World War I were read aloud. The monument, which was approved by the legislature in 2007, is expected to be finished by Memorial Day weekend.
“It will always be a somber place,” Wykstra said. “These are Colorado’s sons and daughters.”
When each of the 150-plus names was read, the crowd fell silent. No sniffles, no traffic, no banter from passersby. It was as if the city knew to honor its fallen soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen.
Wykstra walked to the podium to read a section of names with his back straight, head up and shoulders back. His list included his son’s name.
Jake Wykstra was a regular American kid, Tom said. Jake knew that he wanted to join the military by the time he was 14.
Tom Wykstra was proud, just as most fathers would be when a son decided to serve, he said. But he also was scared of what could happen.
“I remember that day,” he said. “I can’t describe it. As a
parent, it’s your most terrifying fears hitting all at once.”
After Jake died, Tom became a Gold Star father, a distinction given to family members when a loved one dies in combat. He joined the Colorado Fallen Heroes Memorial Fund in 2015 to honor Jake and the others who died at war.
“For Gold Star families, one of the biggest fears is having your loved one forgotten,” Tom said. “Having a permanent monument to honor fallen heroes is important to honor them and to teach the future generations of military sacrifice.”
Rebecca Kim joined the fallen heroes memorial commission in 2009, six years after her brother Russell Rippetoe, an Army Ranger, was killed in Iraq in a suicide bombing.
“I was searching for a way to honor my brother,” Kim said. “It was never a question of if we’d get here, but a question of when.”
Now that construction is underway, the project moves into what the memorial fund calls “Phase II.” The goal is to create a public online database where people can search the names of Coloradans who died in combat and learn about who they were.
“Students come to the Capitol daily. This memorial is a doorway to educating youth on the sacrifices people make for them,” Kim said. “They can read about the veterans and say, ‘He or she had the same interests as me, and they lived in my city.’ And maybe, at least, it inspires them to help someone.”