Nearly a dozen years after the idea was first conceived, organizers, dignitaries and military families broke ground in Aurora on Saturday for a memorial honoring every Colorado member of the military killed or missing in action since statehood.
The Colorado Freedom Memorial — set to open on May 26, the day before Memorial Day — will be the only monument of its kind in the country: The tilting glass panels will list more than 6,000 names, beginning with Pvt. Fred Springstead, who was hit by sniper fire on Aug 1, 1898, at Fort San Antonio in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War and became the first Coloradan felled in a conflict abroad.
“The Colorado Freedom Memorial is providing all of us an opportunity to make sure we never forget that loss,” said Rick Crandall, president of the foundation building the memorial.
He noted that many of the state’s fallen are buried overseas or at Arlington National Cemetery, so the memorial will be a place for family members to visit, remember and mourn.
“I’m very sorry we need it, but I’m honored to be leading the charge to build it,” Crandall added.
“I always visit the families of the fallen, and no two families are alike in the way that they grieve,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, himself a veteran of the Gulf War and the Iraq War, at the groundbreaking ceremony. “But what is consistent is their strength, their strength of character, and how nobody’s ever regretted to me that their loved one wore the uniform of this country and served their nation.”
Covering several acres, the memorial will be situated within sight of Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora’s Springhill Park near a newly remodeled Beck Recreation Center. The monument, designed by local architect Kristoffer Kenton and built at a cost of $1.5 million, will feature panels of glass representing different wars. The names etched in the glass won’t be in chronological or alphabetical order, Crandall said, “symbolic of the chaos of war.”
Former Aurora Mayor Paul Tauer said he remembered when planners first started talking about building a memorial and picked the site.
“It’s taken a number of years and a real persistence and effort, but it’s finally here,” he said. “The thing that really is important to me is we are going to have a place where people can remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for all of us to have the freedom we enjoy today.”
Gold Star Wife Paula Darlis recalled throwing one of the first fundraisers for the memorial in her back yard in 2001 and added that “it took on a new meaning” after her husband died from exposure to Agent Orange.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to know we’re finally getting to the end of it. We can have a place where we can sit and have a really solemn moment to remember things,” she said.