Rampart High School graduates Avery Austin and Kyle Shiller, both 18, were among the youngest people at the Pikes Peak Veterans Council's annual Memorial Day ceremony Monday, attended by about 150 veterans, family members, friends and community leaders.

But what Austin and Shiller lacked in years, they made up for in respect for those who came before them.

Austin, who's been accepted to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and Shiller, who's headed to the Air Force ROTC program at Purdue University in Indiana, placed one of several ceremonial wreaths to honor military branches and support organizations. Both have family members with extensive military backgrounds.

"I feel very honored to just be in a room with so many people that have made so many sacrifices for their nation," said Austin, whose parents were Army officers. "It's also kind of exciting to know that one day I'll be in similar shoes."

Shiller said his father, a retired Air Force colonel, and other family members impressed upon him a deep respect for the military.

"I just really wanted to follow in his path and go into the Air Force to serve our country," Shiller said.

The Pikes Peak Veterans Council ceremony, which took place at the Retired Enlisted Association on Colorado Springs' east side, was one of several local events Monday that honored sacrifices by members of the U.S. military and the nation's allies.

The ceremony included a color guard, the playing of the United States and Canadian national anthems, a rifle salute and the playing of taps.

Keynote speaker retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Frank D. Watson said Memorial Day is a time in which the nation "demonstratively acknowledges what is always here within us, in our hearts and souls. We let it come to the surface."

Memorial Day, he said, recognizes the "national treasure" given to the country by those who have "served, sacrificed and wanted more" for their nation.

"That, to me, is a treasure that is to be honored, respected and, in fact, used - spent in ways that create a future for our country and for all of our citizens," Watson said after his formal remarks.

Asked if the nation does enough to honor and respect that treasure, Watson said, "the issue probably is that, as citizens, we don't feel that need to do more for our country and we probably have gotten to the point of taking things for granted, versus knowing that it's not free, that it is a cost to get to where we are today, to have the country we have. And each of us needs to feel that responsibility and offer our service, our time, energy, effort, to perpetuate what we have and to, in fact, improve what we have."

Other events Monday included a commemoration at Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs by the 10th U.S. Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers and the Buffalo Soldiers of the Rocky Mountains, who presented a dedication at the cemetery's Spanish American section. The event concluded just before an afternoon shower.

Meanwhile, the Pikes Peak Hospice & Palliative Care's annual commemorative celebration, which honored the hospice center's late patients, took place at Hillside Gardens and Nursery with the reading of patient names and the release of dozens of monarch butterflies as a celebration of life.

More than 400 family members, friends and staff members attended the outdoor ceremony.


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Business writer, Colorado Springs Gazette