The Denver Post

HON­OR­ING VETER­ANS

- By James Burky Denver · United States of America · United States Air Force · United States Army · Colorado · Afghanistan · United States Marine Corps · US Military Academy · Rangers · Iraq · Rebuilding Together · Gold Star Chili

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.”

 ?? RJ San­gosti, The Denver Post ??
RJ San­gosti, The Denver Post
 ??  ?? Carol Schaefer, from South­west Har­bor, Maine, looks at one of the many pho­tos of ser­vice mem­bers hang­ing from trees dur­ing the ground­break­ing and re­mem­brance cer­e­mony for the Colorado Fallen He­roes Me­mo­rial on Mon­day in Denver.
Carol Schaefer, from South­west Har­bor, Maine, looks at one of the many pho­tos of ser­vice mem­bers hang­ing from trees dur­ing the ground­break­ing and re­mem­brance cer­e­mony for the Colorado Fallen He­roes Me­mo­rial on Mon­day in Denver.
 ?? Pho­tos by He­len H. Richard­son, The Denver Post ?? Larry Mueller, a re­tired Marines, and his wife JoAnn sit with other Gold Star fam­i­lies as they take part in Mon­day’s cer­e­mony. Larry's brother Pfc. Kurt Mueller Jr., D Com­pany, 1st Bat­tal­ion, 4th Marines, 3rd Marine Di­vi­sion, was killed April 26, 1968, in the Viet­nam War. He was 21 years old. The cer­e­mony was held in Lin­coln Me­mo­rial Park at the site of the future me­mo­rial.
Pho­tos by He­len H. Richard­son, The Denver Post Larry Mueller, a re­tired Marines, and his wife JoAnn sit with other Gold Star fam­i­lies as they take part in Mon­day’s cer­e­mony. Larry's brother Pfc. Kurt Mueller Jr., D Com­pany, 1st Bat­tal­ion, 4th Marines, 3rd Marine Di­vi­sion, was killed April 26, 1968, in the Viet­nam War. He was 21 years old. The cer­e­mony was held in Lin­coln Me­mo­rial Park at the site of the future me­mo­rial.

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