Memorial Day Luminaria Tribute aims to honor, teach


By Randi Pierce | Staff Writer

As the sun sets on Memorial Day, Veterans for Veterans of Archuleta will hold a vesper ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park complete with a flyover, flag ceremony, 21-gun salute, a flag-folding ceremony, the playing of taps at sunset and a number of luminarias being lit in honor of service members.

The event will serve multiple purposes, according to its organizers, among them honoring those who have served the country and died, those who have or are serving the country who are still living, educating the public about the costs of freedom, and raising funds to continue helping local veterans and their families.

The Memorial Day Luminaria Tribute will be a new addition to the lineup of local Memorial Day services this year, with the effort being spearheaded by Charlotte Jones and Joanne Irons.

Irons explained the idea for the luminarias came from her first cousin, an Army veteran who is active with the American Legion where she lives in Connecticut.

There, Irons explained, they started a program where they play taps while going down a river, and the event grew to include luminaria bags at the end of the path so people who wanted to go and participate in a bigger way could.

“We would buy luminarias from her to honor our vets in our families,” she said, adding it occurred to her something similar could be done in Pagosa.

She then spoke with the organizers of the Connecticut event about the products they use and how they put it together, and Irons took the idea to Vets for Vets in January.

The board gave its permission for the project, with Jones offering to help spearhead it and the Irons family volunteering to donate the supplies and help the first year.

Irons explained she chose to take the idea to Vets for Vets because the organization “is so hands-on” and donates to vets in need in Archuleta County, calling it “amazing how much they’re literally helping their own.”

She called it a “no-brainer.”

For Jones, the project is another chance to help people, especially the younger generations, learn about the costs of earning and maintaining freedoms.

She noted Vets for Vets has also been working to spark patriotism through things such as school visits and added the effort is not about politics, but patriotism.

Planning of the event hit a stumbling block when, on Good Friday, Jones suffered a stroke.

But, it didn’t stop her. Instead, it helped her heal, and the project has helped reinforce her resolve to help local veterans and their families.

While in rehabilitation in Farmington, N.M., Jones explained one of her therapists asked her to work on writing an outline for something to help with her recovery, and she proceeded to outline and write the script for Monday’s program.

In addition to helping her move forward with planning the program, Jones noted the exercise also helped her know she could still process information.

It further helped her set her direction moving forward, with Jones, the widow of a veteran, explaining her focus in life will continue to be veterans and the families of veterans.

“Everybody has to have a purpose in life, and I know what mine is,” she said, noting the large number of families that have been and are affected by war.

She also recalled when blue stars hung in windows indicating the family of a service member serving during a time of conflict or, in the case of gold stars, the family of a service member who had lost their life. 

“I remember seeing those and not really knowing what they meant for a while, but, boy, do I know now,” she said. “And we have so many family members now that are suffering, they’re caregivers for people with Agent Orange cancers, burn pits, bad water at Camp Lejeune, all kinds of things. And the PTSD and the suicide rates, I understand why they’re there.”

The project, she added, was an answer for her to set direction of what she’ll do for the rest of her life.

“We’re here to serve,” she said.

Irons and Jones indicated they’ve been amazed with the response so far, with both talking about the donations above and beyond the requested amount and the stories they’ve heard.

“That’s why I do stuff like this,” Irons said, referring to the surprises and the unintended stories.

Jones noted people have been “overwhelmingly” excited and accepting of the concept.

She also noted it’s a win-win-win, with people able to witness others doing acts of patriotism, it being educational for the younger generations and it helping to raise funds to help finance veterans’ needs next winter.

“There are so many good people in Vets for Vets, and they keep serving,” she said.

Anyone interesting in a luminaria bag can contact Irons at (970) 946-7545 or look for tables at various businesses staffed by committee members.

Luminarias will be sold through Memorial Day.

Memorial day events

On Monday morning at 10 a.m., the American Legion will hold a Memorial Day ceremony at the flag pole at Hilltop Cemetery.

Vets for Vets’ Luminaria Tribute will begin around 7 p.m. and will coincide with sunset.