Fallen service members honored for Memorial Day in southern Colorado

Family members of fallen veterans honored their loved ones in the first Memorial Day ceremony since the start of the pandemic.
Published: May. 30, 2022 at 7:00 PM MDT|Updated: May. 31, 2022 at 4:47 AM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - As people commemorated Memorial Day across the nation, Pikes Peak National Cemetery held its annual ceremony honoring the fallen on Monday morning.

This ceremony was the first at the cemetery since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, making it especially significant for those who were unable to gather at the site for the past two years.

But this year was especially important for those who had lost loved ones recently. As the bands played and cannons were fired for the annual ceremony, Trish Gonzales laid flowers at her late husband’s grave. Joseph Gonzales died in August at 81 years old. He served on a ship in the Navy when he was younger. Trish said he was able to live a long and full life, helping her raise three boys before he passed last year.

“This is the first Memorial Day that he’s not here, and it’s tough, but I had to come by and say hi to him,” she said.

Trish and Joseph were married for 29 years and together for 35.

“He was a wonderful guy,” she said. “He loved life, he loved people. He was always on the go fixing things and doing things.”

Across the cemetery, closer to the event, Kathy Peterson and her husband, Scott, were paying their respects to her mom and stepdad. Like both of her parents, the Petersons are veterans themselves. They are members of the American Legion, which is a group of retired and active duty service members.

For Kathy, this is a family business. Her father was James Coen, who served in the Navy in World War II. Her mother, Joan Coen, has a unique background.

Joan was a member of the Woman Army Corps (WAC). This was the women’s branch of the military signed into law in 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor the previous year. It’s carved onto Joan’s headstone that she served in Korea. However, her time in the military was cut short when she was married due to rules dictating that married women could not serve.

“She was very excited about her military career,” Kathy Peterson said. “It was short-lived, but she was very proud of it.”

Joan passed away in 2016 and currently lies next to her husband, James, who died years before.

Also on their headstones were pennies, which the Petersons said surprised them. This was part of another traditional military tribute.

A penny left on a veteran’s grave shows that someone stopped by and paid their respect. It’s meant for the family of the vet to see. A nickel on a grave means the fallen vet was visited by someone with whom they attended boot camp.

A dime represents a visit from someone who served with the vet. A quarter is seen as the most significant tribute. It represents a visit from someone who was present in the veteran’s final moments.

Even after the ceremony finished, singing was heard and letters were read to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the country they served.

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