Nov. 11 marks a day of honor, celebration and remembrance for all American veterans and active-duty military personnel. And for Lt. Col. (ret.) Richard “Dick” Merritt, a Vietnam veteran and longtime resident of the valley, today marks moments of warmth and shared community experiences.
Beginning at 11 a.m. this morning, the Aspen-Pitkin County Veterans Day ceremony will commence at the Aspen Fire Department’s headquarters station, 420 East Hopkins Ave., a last-minute location change from Veterans Memorial Park due to weather circumstances.
“This is the first year since 2019 that we’ve been able to do a full ceremony and we’re bringing it back,” Merritt said Wednesday afternoon. “And we’re doing it because we feel that people are wanting it and that COVID-19 protocols are being observed in Aspen. We feel safe.”
As a longtime organizer of the traditional event, along with former Aspen policeman Dan Glidden, who also is a Vietnam veteran, Merritt invites the public to attend this year’s memorial gathering and encourages veterans to wear items of military memorabilia.
Merritt said the veterans’ wreath will still be put up at the park by a group of boy scouts prior to the ceremony. At the fire station, following the entrance of the flags, the boy scouts will lead the Pledge of Allegiance and the Rev. Darrick Leier of St. Mary Catholic Church will then open with the invocation.
This year’s guest speaker is Aspen Fire Chief Rick Balentine, a U.S. Navy veteran. Local entertainer Jeannie Walla will lead a troupe of girl scouts in a patriotic song. The audience will be invited to share words of remembrance on those who served and lost their lives in service, and there will be a killed in action roll call that includes all of the names of local residents who died while serving in the armed forces from World War I through the war in Afghanistan.
The service will come to an end with Father Leier’s reading of the benediction, followed by “Taps” and the “Retirement of the Colors.”
As an advocate for veterans in the valley, Merritt views Nov. 11 and the days around it not only as a time to honor veterans, but also an opportunity for community outreach.
Wednesday morning, Merritt and a few other veterans visited the Aspen Community School and spoke to children from kindergarten through eighth grade about patriotism and the future of our country.
“We need to educate our youth to respect the military for what they do,” Merritt said. “This busy time in November each year is about community outreach.”
He also pointed out that Nov. 10 is the Marine Corps’ birthday. He and about 25 other marines spent Wednesday afternoon celebrating the Corps’ 246th birthday at a ceremony at the Brick Pony Pub in Basalt.