Colorado Fallen Heroes Memorial

More than 150 people gathered at Lincoln Memorial Park in Denver on Saturday Nov. 6, 2021, for a dedication ceremony for the new Colorado Fallen Heroes Memorial.

People gathered around Denver on Saturday to celebrate, honor and give respect to Colorado's many veterans just days before Veterans Day.

From Lincoln Memorial Park and along the 16th Street Mall, retired veterans and active duty military members wore their uniforms with pride, while others sported the nations colors.

Several events across the Mile High City were held on Saturday to commemorate Veterans Day, beginning with Gov. Jared Polis and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock dedicating the Colorado Fallen Heroes Memorial at 10 a.m.

"The memorial stands as an ongoing reminder of the sacrifices that so many, too many, men and women in uniform have made to protect our freedom, Polis said with the memorial behind him. "Each one has a story to share, a story to remember, a story to inspire all of us."

More than 150 community members, elected officials and law enforcement officials from the Colorado State Patrol and Denver Police Department gathered for Saturday's ceremony in their Sunday bests or military uniforms. 

Near the red sandstone and granite memorial, portraits of Colorado's fallen heroes hung on trees alongside the red and yellow leaves. Some of the portraits were drawn or painted by local middle school students, said Rebecca Kim, the chair of Colorado Fallen Heroes, who sponsored the event.

Tom Wykstra, was one of nine speakers at the event and spoke in honor of his son, Jake, who died after a helicopter crash in Afghanistan on May 28, 2014.

The Thornton resident said his son "calmed him during his speech" and that the memorial gives Gold Star families like his a place to gather, reflect and honor their loved one.

"We now have a place to pay tribute and remember our loved ones and see other people who visit that are honoring their service and sacrifice," he said. "For us Gold Star families to receive this much support just lets us know that [our loved ones] will never be forgotten."

The Colorado Fallen Heroes Memorial project began in 2007 when then Gov. Bill Ritter signed Senate Bill 07-086 into law, which endorsed a memorial to be built to honor Colorado's fallen who were killed since 1900.

Following the ceremony, many of the people in attendance walked several blocks towards the sound of the Colorado National Guard's band, which was playing tunes at the 8th annual Veterans Day Festival.

In the past, the festival was held at the Civic Center park, however, this year organizers from the Colorado Veterans Project opted to move it to the mall due to health concerns, said Todd Youngblood, the president of the Colorado Veterans Project.

As the band played music in the background, the festival showcased many veterans organizations such as Team Rubicon. It included a stationary parade with military vehicles on display and even had a children's area with bouncy houses and games.

"This is a great opportunity to connect with other fellow veterans and just take some time to honor everyone who has given the sacrifice of service to this country," Youngblood said.

Many of the festival goers wore shirts, hats and other accessories in either army camouflage or red, white and blue. Arvada resident Stephen Cote, a retired veteran, said he came to the event to show his support for his fellow veterans and active duty military personnel

"This is very important and one of those things we learned and developed while we were in the service. It's a brotherhood/sisterhood and we all need to respect each others sacrifice," Cote said. 

Littleton resident Mitchell Cooper shared Cote's sentiment and said as a person who never served in the military it was important to show their support.

"It's not something everyone can do, so we have to pay respect to these men and women," Cooper said while standing next to his 5-year-old son Jayden. "Thanking and honor those who have protected our freedom is the least we can do."