MONTE VISTA—On Thursday, April 13 Monte Vista High School and Middle School students attended a “Thank you for my Freedom Tour” presentation conducted by the veterans organizations, Fallen Heroes Honored and Boots 66. Organizers Tony Gavin, Wes Love, Timothy Davis and Bob Davis are travelling around the state to the 46 towns that have lost servicemen and women in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Monte Vista was their 28th destination in the tour.
The organizers clean and adorn the headstones of the fallen heroes, taking pictures of the headstones to send to the relatives of the servicemen and women who are unable to travel to visit their graves in person. After completing this, the organizers conduct a presentation at each high school.
The Fallen Heroes presentation in Monte Vista incorporated several important symbols and ceremonies for students to better comprehend the gravity of military service and the challenges which veterans face every day after returning. Love began the ceremonies by telling the students about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery before completing a table setting ceremony for military service people who are prisoners of war or missing in action. Love pointed out the 70 empty chairs that were set on the north end of the gym, one for each of the 68 veterans killed in the war in Iraq from Colorado, one to symbolize the veterans lost in other conflicts and one to commemorate the fallen service dogs. Love went on to explain the dogs’ importance to soldiers both during and after deployments. He also pointed to the 22 pairs of boots behind the podium, which was one pair for each of the 22 veterans who commit suicide every day, largely due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Love then invited the students to the gym floor to do 22 push-ups to commemorate the fallen veterans, which most students in attendance did quickly.
Davis then explained that the purpose of the ceremony and their organizations was “honor, healing and remembrance” for the lost veterans and Gold Star families. He reminded the students that “every sacrifice is monumental for our great nation” when describing how over 1.5 million Americans have died serving the country since the Revolutionary War. He encouraged students to remember that they were the next generation of servicemen and women, that it would soon be their turn to decide if they wanted to follow the path of military service. “You may be so lucky to be that one percent” and “if that’s your path, then go down that path.” Davis talked about some of the ceremonies at other schools that his organization has conducted and told the students that he provides each Gold Star family with a commemorative fallen hero bible. He also described how his organization provides field bibles for veterans and active duty military as well as police and first responders. Davis read brief biographies about the lives of Sgt. Glen Martinez and Sgt. Faith Hinkley, reading quotes from friends and fellow service members about their heroism and character while serving and reading personal anecdotes from their friends and family. The Martinez and Hinkley families were presented with their bibles.
Gavin described some of the organization’s other veterans projects, including the license for freedom tour, which creates collages of license plates spelling the first initial and last name of fallen service men and women, the first initial always coming from a Colorado plate. Those collages will be on a travelling “License for Freedom” truck. Gavin also read about their mission ZOOM, which commemorates veterans who commit suicide, reading to students about how veterans are thrust into warfare but not treated appropriately for PTSD after they have served and are often thrust back into an overstimulating society.
They also conduct an annual “March to Zero” event to raise awareness about veteran suicide in March at Civic Center Park in Denver. Gavin described how he and Love donate food to every local food bank in honor of the fallen heroes in each hometown, honoring Martinez and Hinkley with donations to the Monte Vista Food Bank in March before their event. The organizations also brought greeting cards for the students to sign, which both organizations send to veterans and their families during the holiday season and hand out at Denver International Airport to returning active duty troops on the days before Thanksgiving and Christmas. They also provide rides around the state of Colorado for active duty service members to spend holidays with their families.
The event’s organizers highlighted another of their missions, which is to get Gold Star family members to sign balls or sticks for every major sport in Colorado, which they present to each professional sports team in the state. The OHNED (Oath Has No Expiration Date) project is a collage featuring art to commemorate every conflict the United States has fought in. They began this project in 2016 on the 150th Memorial Day. They then donate the collage to each high school so the students and staff will always remember the sacrifices of Americans throughout history and remember the sacrifices of their hometown heroes as well.