Homeless veterans remembered at memorial ceremony in Colorado
The Gazette, Colorado Springs
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A small group stood in silence around the Veterans Memorial in Memorial Park Thursday evening, some holding flowers, others baseball caps and coats that commemorated their time in the military.
They gathered to remember people who had been too often forgotten in life: four homeless veterans in Colorado Springs who died during the past year.
The men honored Thursday were Richard Sanders, an Army veteran who died Aug. 31, 2011; Andrew Barreras, a Navy vet who died Jan. 19; Gary Cunningham, an Air Force vet who died Jan. 28, and Armand Trujillo, a Navy vet who who died Feb. 6. All four had participated in the homeless programs at Crawford House, Shelter Plus Care and Housing and Urban Development/Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing.
Chaplain Bob Lewis read the invocation and the men’s names. A bagpiper was followed by a rifle salute from the Colorado National Guard Honor Guard Team. When the four shots had faded from the air, 4th Infantry Division Band Bugler Sgt. Dennis Kerr played taps while those attending removed their hats and bowed their heads.
“Gulf War Vet,” read the back of one man’s jacket. A member of the Colorado Patriot Guard Riders, a volunteer organization supporting active duty military and veterans, he was there with the group to provide a flag line for the ceremony.
Most of those at the ceremony had served in the military.
“I was honored to serve my country for about 10 years. I served with some of the greatest,” said Tim Bartlett, an Army veteran who served in Desert Storm, explaining why he had decided to come to the ceremony. “No man should be forgotten.”
Remembering the men was important for all attendees, but for some it hit closer to home.
Trujillo’s neighbor in the HUD/VASH program, Navy veteran David Taylor, said a few words about Trujillo during the service, and reflected more later.
“You couldn’t ask for a better person or a better friend. (Trujillo) was a good man, like I said, and he served. He was a Vietnam-era – not in the war, per se – but a gunner’s mate. A proud veteran and a Native American – proud of his heritage,” said Taylor.
Taylor lauded the role programs such as HUD/VASH play in people’s lives.
“The program helps homeless veterans get a stable living environment; it’s helped people change for the better. They’ve done a lot for me,” said Taylor.
Later, discussion turned from those who had died to the veterans facing homelessness. Programs for homeless veterans are always in need of donations, particularly of household goods.
Bunny Blaha, who has volunteered for the past two years with homeless programs such as Crawford House and serves on the board of Colorado Veterans Resource Coalition, explained that many in the programs don’t have household goods because of their previous living situations. As a result, they need mattresses, pots and pans, vaccum cleaners and similar appliances when moving into permanent housing. Blaha can be reached about donations at 471-8527.
This is the second year the memorial service has been held, and there are plans to make it an annual event. Like everyone else at the ceremony, Blaha, who knew three of the veterans, stressed the importance of showing respect for those who were often isolated and ignored by society in life.
“I don’t want them to disappear. They’re not invisible,” said Blaha, herself a Navy veteran. “They’re there and they served. We need to show them we remember, and we appreciate their service and that they had difficult lives.”