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Local community comes together to memorialize fallen Colorado veterans

Visitors view over 6,000 names inscribed on the Colorado Freedom Memorial wall in Aurora, Colorado, Dec. 1, 2018.

Visitors view over 6,000 names inscribed on the Colorado Freedom Memorial wall in Aurora, Colorado, Dec. 1, 2018. A luminary was lit for each of the 6,218 names that fill the 21 panels of glass and make up the Colorado Freedom Memorial wall. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jazmin Smith)

Over 6,000 luminaries flicker for three nights at the Colorado Freedom Memorial in Aurora, Colorado, Dec. 1, 2018.

Over 6,000 luminaries flicker for three nights at the Colorado Freedom Memorial in Aurora, Colorado, Dec. 1, 2018. The luminaries are set up by volunteers each night and turned off after three hours. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jazmin Smith)

A luminary honoring a fallen service member rests in front of the Colorado Freedom Memorial wall in Aurora, Colorado, Nov. 29, 2018.

A luminary honoring a fallen service member rests in front of the Colorado Freedom Memorial wall in Aurora, Colorado, Nov. 29, 2018. Members of the local community came together to help create the “Light Their Way Home” display in the field surrounding the Colorado Freedom Memorial. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jazmin Smith)

Over 6,000 luminaries are set up at the Colorado Freedom Memorial in Aurora, Colorado, Dec. 1, 2018.

Over 6,000 luminaries are set up at the Colorado Freedom Memorial in Aurora, Colorado, Dec. 1, 2018. The “Light Their Way Home” event memorializes Colorado natives whose names are on the 21 panels of the Colorado Freedom Memorial wall. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jazmin Smith)

Dog tags hang from yellow ribbon on a pine tree at the Colorado Freedom Memorial in Aurora, Colorado, Nov. 28, 2018.

Dog tags hang from yellow ribbon on a pine tree at the Colorado Freedom Memorial in Aurora, Colorado, Nov. 28, 2018. The dog tags on the tree were on display to give friends and families of service members who are not from Colorado, but who have died in service to their country, an opportunity to memorialize them. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jazmin Smith)

Students and teachers with a Cherry Creek Elementary School and the Aurora Police Department work together to set up luminaries to honor Colorado’s fallen veterans at the Colorado Freedom Memorial in Aurora, Colorado, Nov. 28, 2018.

Students and teachers with a Cherry Creek Elementary School and the Aurora Police Department work together to set up luminaries to honor Colorado’s fallen veterans at the Colorado Freedom Memorial in Aurora, Colorado, Nov. 28, 2018. Prior to setting up the candles, the third-grade class students learned about the significance of the memorial and had the chance to see a live bird demonstration. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jazmin Smith)

Students and teachers with a Cherry Creek Elementary School and the Aurora Police Department work together to set up luminaries to honor Colorado’s fallen veterans at the Colorado Freedom Memorial in Aurora, Colorado, Nov. 28, 2018.

Students and teachers with a Cherry Creek Elementary School and the Aurora Police Department work together to set up luminaries to honor Colorado’s fallen veterans at the Colorado Freedom Memorial in Aurora, Colorado, Nov. 28, 2018. There were 6,218 candles set up in jars to represent the Coloradoan men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country since Colorado became a state in 1876. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jazmin Smith)

AURORA, Colo. --

For three nights, the stars were mirrored over two and a half acres as more than 6,000 luminaries flickered, each representing a life sacrificed in service to the nation.    

From Nov. 29 to Dec. 1, 2018, volunteers trickled in from the local community to assist in setting up, and then lighting the luminaries at the Colorado Freedom Memorial in Aurora, Colorado.

“It’s a way … we can honor their service and their sacrifice,” said retired Chief Petty Officer Brian Chochol, a Colorado local. “It’s one way I can say thanks for giving us the opportunity to serve later.”

Each of the 6,218 names on the Freedom Memorial Wall represent Coloradoans who died in combat from the time of the Spanish American war to present.

“The notion that somebody would give their life for us seems like an incredible thing to do,” said Rick Crandall, Colorado Freedom Memorial president. “We understand it, those of us who’ve served and those who are in the military … but for most people who don’t have military background, the idea escapes them that somebody would be willing to do that and once they figure it out, they really feel a need to come out and show somehow, someway that they’re grateful so they come here and they flip on candles.”

As the sun receded behind the Rocky Mountains and the temperature fell, dozens of people arrived, each with their own motivation.

Everybody gathered, laughed and was glad to be together, said Crandall. They understood why they were here. To see that happen time and time again where people come and give up part of their weekend and just be here because something about the place draws them – it’s amazing.

Old and young joined in turning the lights on and then coming back and turning them off, despite the daunting, cold weather. The number of volunteers who show their support has increased each year as word spreads about the luminary display.

“As everyone figures out pretty quickly, we lean on volunteers a lot to help us with events,” said Crandall. “Volunteer activities out here become an event of themselves where people learn about the memorial.”

Whether a civilian or service member, this annual event has become a tradition to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

“We have a wonderful relationship with Buckley across the street,” said Crandall. “Buckley being an active Air Force base – no connections to Colorado really – a lot of people at Buckley come from other places, so for them to show that interest in paying tribute to Colorado’s fallen, recognizing that it doesn’t matter where they’re from, we’re all in this, we all wear the uniform, we’re all part of the same team. I love that an awful lot.”

To learn more about the Colorado Freedom Memorial, you can visit their website at www.ColoradoFreedomMemorial.com.  


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