'The loss is always there:' What Memorial Day means to the wife of a fallen soldier

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KKTV) - Memorial Day is typically filled with parades and public gatherings, with most this year canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A local woman who lost her husband in combat last year did not let it stop her from honoring him.

“Probably every other Gold Star family in the country feels like every day is Memorial Day," said Deanna Sartor. "We live our lives to uphold the legacy of the person we lost and to make sure their name is spoken every day if possible.”

Sgt. Major James "Ryan" Sartor died during combat operations in Afghanistan in July of 2019. Sartor was assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group.

“He wanted to go out with each of his teams at least one time and do a mission with them and just show them that he supported them, and he loved them, and he was always there to fight by their side," said Deanna Sartor. “It would have been his last combat mission in his career probably. One Afghan guy started shooting. It was the only action they saw that night. It hit one of the guys right in front of Ryan and it hit him as well.”

A portion of Highway 24 in Falcon is now dedicated to Sgt. Maj. Sartor and his service. This Memorial Day, her first as a Gold Star wife, she decided to walk the entire stretch, all 7 miles, for him.

“For me, it was just an honor to my husband," said Sartor, "I wasn’t really concerned with anyone else showing up. I just wanted to do it out of my love and loyalty for him and his legacy.”

Deanna Sartor says her husband's legacy is marked by faith, family and his service in the armed forces. Sartor joined the Army in June 2001. He deployed to Iraq as an infantryman in 2002, and as a Green Beret assigned to 2nd Battalion, 10th SFG (A) in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010. He also deployed to Afghanistan with 10th SFG (A) in 2017 and 2019.

He has been honored with many awards. His posthumous awards include the Purple Heart Medal and Bronze Star Medal.

"Ryan really felt that he was called by God to be a part of the military," said Sartor. “He just put his heart and soul into it. He loved the men he fought by and he would do anything for them.”

Sartor and her family planned to spend this Memorial Day at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where his name was added to the Special Operations Fallen Soldier Memorial. Each year a ceremony is held on Memorial Day for the new names added to the wall. This year, the event was canceled due to COVID-19.

Sartor's friends and family instead joined her on her walk along Highway 24. Members of her husband's unit also came along to honor Sgt. Maj. Sartor.

“One of the guys that spoke at the funeral said men look up to Green Berets, but Green Berets look up to Ryan Sartor. I think that just goes to show how extraordinary he was," said Sartor.

Days and milestones now pass without him. Sartor says certain days are grim reminders.

“Memorial Day is really brutal just because everyone you know, everyone who loved Ryan is reaching out. So, there’s a lot of emotion involved," said Sartor. “The loss is always there. Every millisecond of the day you always think of them. When you’re at a birthday party or making a new memory, you’re acutely aware that they are missing in that new memory.”

She is not alone in her grief. And, on this day, she hopes others will pause and reflect and remember people like her husband, Sgt. Maj. Ryan Sartor.

"Take a moment with gratitude to think of the men who have served and given up their lives for us, and then while you’re doing that and while you’re barbecuing and at the beach, just think of them and know that you’re able to do that because of what they did.”