Denver families and friends gather to honor the fallen soldiers they loved

Family and friends filled POC Hall to honor fallen veterans as part of the 18th Annual Veterans Memorial Day Tribute on Saturday, May 27.

The downtown streets were cold and dreary Saturday, the sidewalk darkening from the drizzling rain, but the POF Hall just south of the State Capitol had propped its large doors open.

Sitting in its pews was a mix of old and young, some dressed in suit coats and others wearing leather vests with “veteran” splayed on the back. A family sat in the back right, the 10 of them bunched together in two pews. A young boy sat between his siblings and mom, who wore a yellow pin that read “Family of a hero.”

The people inside, keeping the church warm, were family and friends of fallen service members. They came to the 18th annual Veterans Memorial Day Tribute to honor the people they had lost.

After a short handbell performance and the posting of the colors, the crowd stood as the national anthem began. The boy began to talk but his mother quickly clamped her hand over his mouth.

Veterans and current service members presented a remembrance wreath as well as seven others to recognize different American wars and expeditions. After a few wreaths, the boy and his siblings grew stir crazy. As the wreath in honor of the War on Terror was being presented, the boy went to speak again but his mother quickly shushed him.

“This is the war Daniel died in,” she told him. “How’d he die?” he asked. “I’ll tell you after,” the mother whispered and the boy quieted down.

Singers made their way on stage, performing popular wartime songs from different eras. Cindy Smith, a Gold Star mother, began singing “God Bless the USA,” bringing the crowd to its feet as she sang, “And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free. And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.”

A slide show of veterans started. Some were in combat gear, posing in tanks or holding their guns. Others were kids again, smiling next to siblings with the tell-tale blue backdrop of an early 2000s professional photo shoot behind them. And some were more candid, a couple on their wedding day or a dad throwing his daughter in the air. The sounds of soft crying made its way through the pews.

Then came the reading of the names. Extra was said about the men and women whose families were attending the tribute for the first time. There was Josh, the magician who ate fire, and there was James, who liked to hunt and camp. There were others, too. After each person, Mayor Michael Hancock presented his or her family with a memorial banner.

Then came the names of those whose families had come before, a navy bell chiming after each was said. Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Romero’s name was called. The family in the back stood up.

Romero, a Green Beret, was killed on April 15, 2002, in Afghanistan at 30 years old. He was the first Colorado soldier to die since Vietnam. He was a communication specialist who was also trained as a medic. Another team needed a medic and he was the only one available. The soldiers were moving Russian missiles, unaware that an anti-tank device was hidden below. Four out of the five soldiers there died, his sister Stephanie Romero said. He wasn’t even supposed to be there.

“I’m proud to be his sister,” she said after the ceremony. “Other people recognizing that he made a sacrifice so we can live the way we want to live helps.”

A serviceman came over to the family, presenting a tribute pin to Daniel’s mother Geralyn Romero.

“On behalf of this grateful nation, we thank you for your son’s sacrifice,” he told her.

The family sat down, the boy sat in Geralyn’s lap while a granddaughter reached back from the pew in front to squeeze her hand. She was going to put the tribute pin alongside the other pins on Daniel’s banner, which hangs in her front window. But for now, she held it in her hands.

Another name was called, another bell chimed, another family stood and another pin was given in honor of the men and women who died fighting for this country.

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