Community honors veterans killed in action

Ryan Hoffman

Dozens of people gathered at the Western Garfield County Veterans Memorial to pay tribute to those veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice, and express their gratitude to the man responsible for the memorial’s most recent addition.

The ceremony served as the official dedication of a new stone with the names of Garfield County veterans killed in action — the result of two years of research and fundraising spearheaded by longtime Rifle resident John Scalzo. The ceremony kicked off with the presentation of colors by members of Boy Scout Troop 223 before a series of speakers took to the podium to recount personal stories and share their appreciation for Scalzo’s efforts.

Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson recalled learning of the death of Thomas Griffee, whose name is one of the 91 listed on the memorial. Griffee, who was killed in Vietnam, was older than Samson. Despite his youth at the time, Samson said he still remembers the sense of deep gratitude he felt after hearing news of Griffee’s sacrifice. “I’ll never forget the feeling I had,” he said.

Samson recalled Scalzo’s work in raising funds for the original Western Garfield County Memorial dedicated in 2009, and thanked him for his tireless effort in honoring the county’s service members.

The appreciation was not limited to those who spoke at the event. Rifle resident Dee McCown said she attended to thank Scalzo for giving the community an important reminder of Garfield County’s willingness to “give the ultimate sacrifice.”

The amount of work Scalzo put into the project is remarkable, said Bill Nelson, a Rifle resident and veteran.

Scalzo, who lightened the mood with comedic remarks as the wind whipped through Deerfield Park, shared an abbreviated version of the story that resulted in the new stone with the more than 30 people in attendance. “Why did I do this?” Scalzo asked. “I did it to prove that it could be done.”

While he was determined to demonstrate he could complete the project, Scalzo said it would have been impossible without help from people like his niece Cathie Zarlingo, Rifle resident Dick Rhoades and Laura West, librarian at the Rifle Branch Library. All three spoke briefly about their involvement in the project.

While many of the speakers thanked Scalzo, he seized the opportunity to pay homage to the civilians, many of whom were never recognized during and after World War II. For Scalzo, who served as a U.S. Merchant Marine during the war, the lack of recognition is an injustice yet to be corrected.

“These merchant seamen were never honored for their service,” he said sporting a Merchant Marine cap. “We got no recognition.”

Following the ceremony’s conclusion, Scalzo said he was happy with the turnout but even happier to close this most recent chapter. The surplus funds raised for the stone will go toward maintenance of the memorial.

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