by Marissa Lorenz
The wreath-laying ceremony recently held at the Kremmling Cemeteryy is held there every year. It is a celebration of veterans on Wreaths Across America Day and is hosted by the Kremmling Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Auxiliary.
The event is a commemoration of our veterans, promising to “remember the fallen, honor those who serve, and teach our children the value of freedom.” The graves of each of the veterans buried in the ceremony is decorated with an evergreen wreath while their names are spoken and recognized aloud. For Kremmling, that is 135 buried veterans.
The wreath-laying event is also the Auxiliary’s largest fundraiser of the year. The proceeds go towards upkeep of the graves and to supporting living veterans in Grand County, according to Micah Benson, who has served as president to the Auxiliary for the last 8 years.
“For example,” explains Benson, “if we’re made aware of a vet or a veteran’s family in need, we will try to provide some financial assistance to help them bridge their situation.”
Unfortunately, Benson observes, the VFW Auxiliary and its partnered VFW Post, #9374–the only such entity in Grand County, serving veterans and their families from Kremmling to Winter Park to Grand Lake–may not be around much longer to continue providing such support and service.
“The VFW Post is currently delinquent on reports and bonding,” she states. “According to the state office, notifications will most likely go out in January to VFW Post 9374 and the Auxiliary about pulling the charter for the Post. The Auxiliary cannot exist without a Post affiliation. If the VFW Post closes, the Auxiliary will have to close as well. We will have 60 days from the date of notification to close out our business.
“Our biggest issue is we need more members in the VFW, members that are willing to take offices and keep it going.”
There is a relatively high percentage of veterans living in Grand County. According to a 2019 Census Bureau Report, there were an estimated 1,181 veterans in the county, or 9.4% of our resident population. The report puts that number at about 10% higher than the rate in Colorado (8.7%) and about 1.3 times the rate in the United States (7.3%).
The vast majority of those citizens, according to the same American Community Survey, are from the Vietnam era (nearly 60%). A smaller percentage served in the Gulf in the 1990s (12.8%) and in the Middle East since 2001 (8%).
But only a portion of our local veterans are engaged with local veteran resources. County Veterans Service Officer Duane Dailey says that he is connected to about 800 veterans in Grand and Summit Counties, whom he helps to navigate veterans’ services and benefit programs.
However, Dailey notes that most young veterans only contact him five years after leaving active service when their automatic Veterans Affairs (VA) enrollment needs to be revisited or renewed.
He sees them as having been very close with the peers with whom they trained, deployed, served, and returned. In today’s world, that means they keep in touch and continue supporting each other through modern media and communication methods and aren’t seeking out a local community of veteran support.
In Dailey’s view, Vietnam veterans are not highly engaged in veterans services like the VFA– which were founded during World War I and became widely active during and after World War II–because they were not welcomed back from service in the same way as their predecessors. While World War vets were welcomed as heroes upon their return home, the Vietnam era saw many returning service-members greeted by anti-war protests and similar activities across the nation.
But Dailey says many veterans seek out greater services, including community support, as they get older.
And the local VFW Post and Auxiliary would love to see some of those younger veterans become more engaged in their organizations.
Benson notes that, at this point, there is some administrative work that would be necessary to get Post 9374 back on good standing with the state. However, once things are “back on track,” the responsibilities are minimal–some quarterly and annual paperwork–and most should be enjoyable community-building opportunities.
VFW membership is $45 annually. Lifetime memberships are available and vary according to member age. The Post meets once a month. And while it was founded in Kremmling, it serves the whole community and can meet across the county, wherever members may agree.
“The saddest part is that if the Post closes, Kremmling may never have another one,” Benson stresses. “It takes 35 members, 25 of which must be brand new VFW members, to start a new VFW Post. We’re hoping there are some veterans up here that want to get involved.”
And for those wanting to join the Auxiliary–anyone can join to help support Grand County’s local veterans!– meetings are normally held in Hot Sulphur. Annual membership is $23/year with lifetime memberships also varying. The Auxiliary usually cooks and serves a couple meals during the summer in partnership with Project Sanctuary in Grand Lake. And there is the annual wreath-laying ceremony, “to remember, honor, and teach.”
“Serving in the Auxiliary is all about giving back to our vets,” says Benson, convincingly. “They have done so much for us. It is the least we can do to thank them for our freedom.”
She then makes sure veterans know that the national VFW organization is much larger than Kremmling or Grand County and has an influential reach.
“They act similarly to a lobbying group, campaigning for veterans’ rights and veterans’ benefits. And sometimes, that can be a numbers game. The more people you have, the more voice you have,” Benson appeals to veterans to become involved.
To learn more about Veterans of Foreign Wars in Colorado, go to https://vfwco.org/.
To learn more about Veterans Services, contact Dailey at 970-725-3122 or email@example.com.
And to express interest in joining–and helping to save–Grand County’s Kremmling VFA Post or Auxiliary, contact Benson at 970-509-0021.