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Colorado Springs-area memorial bench honors women who have died in combat

May 31, 2016 Updated: May 31, 2016 at 11:06 am
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Michayla Cassano, center, hugs fellow girl scouts Marie Chupka, left, and Sylvie Snowbarger Monday, May 30, 2016, after the dedication of a Women Veterans Memorial Bench that Cassano planned and developed as part of her Girl Scout Gold Award Project. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

The tug of a cloth drape unveiled something rarely seen at war memorials:

A tribute specifically dedicated to women killed in combat. 

Scores of people looked on Monday as a local Girl Scout's yearslong endeavor to honor women killed in service of the United States military finally came to fruition.

"It's beautiful," a person shouted.

"Thank you," shouted another person. "Thank you so much."

The rose granite bench marked the latest addition to Fountain's Mayor's Park - a site just a few minutes' drive from Fort Carson that is complete with two tanks and a sprawling brick wall etched with the names of local service members killed in action.

On the bench was an inscription punctuated with five words: "May they never be forgotten."

Women repeatedly found themselves in combat situations during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, when the front lines of war became blurred amid the constant threats of roadside bombs or ambushes. But they were usually barred from applying to serve in all combat positions, such as infantry or reconnaissance positions.

That changed in a December policy reversal.

"We need more recognition for women," said Michayla Cassano, 18, the recent Pine Creek High School graduate who designed it. "We really, really do."

Cassano raised $5,600 to build the bench, largely by collecting donations while speaking to veterans groups across the Pikes Peak region. She did it all while battling two blood disorders, which are now in remission. The unveiling capped an otherwise solemn Memorial Day that paid tribute to the ever-lengthening list of men and women who have died in uniform.

Placing a wreath at another stone memorial in the park, Laurie Allen held her hand on her heart in remembrance of her son, Sgt. Jeffrey Sempler, 22.

He was one of 12 Marines who died when two helicopters crashed Jan. 14 during a training mission off Hawaii's Oahu Island. The pain of that day still fresh, Allen scolded the common practice of wishing others a "Happy Memorial Day."

"It's not a happy occasion," said Allen, who lives in Fountain. "That's one thing I always tried to remember, even before this."

The new memorial in Mayor's Park aims to help people understand the stakes involved in military service, said Elba Barr, the leader of Girl Scout Troop 42821.

A former Army master sergeant, Barr recalled 37 people who died serving under her command or on missions she nearly joined. Those casualties happened during Barr's Special Forces deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and northern Africa.

Twenty-two of those soldiers were women, Barr said.

"Those sacrifices will live on," Barr said. "Not every GI is a Joe. Sometimes she's a Jane."

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Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

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