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thedrifter
03-28-08, 07:58 AM
A show of respect
By Kati O€™Hare
Daily Press Writer

MONTROSE —Military men and women stood proudly at the Montrose Regional Airport Tuesday, knuckles white as they held the American flag. As fellow soldiers walked through the terminal, they cheered and gave thanks, providing them with the welcome many past war service members never received.

“It touched the heart,” said James Nappier, who was in the Marines in the 1970s and the U.S. Navy from 2001 until he retired in 2005. “This whole trip is a welcome home these guys deserve. Vietnam vets didn’t get a welcome home. I remember those days, but they laid down the pathway and swore it would never happen again and they’ve kept their promise,”

Nappier, who was disabled by a 120 mm mortar, is one of more than a dozen service members who are spending the week in Telluride with friends and family on an all-expense-paid trip provided by American Eagle Airlines and the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program.

Service groups from all over the Western Slope including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Blue Star Mothers and the Patriot Guard Riders, came to show their respect Tuesday as the soldiers departed their plane. People cheered and waved American flags; they hugged, thanked and cried.

“It’s nice to feel warmth, especially away from your hometown with people who don’t even know you,” said Sgt. Ryan Christian Majors, an amputee.

During the week, the service members will be able to ski or participate in other snow sports, as well as enjoy dinners and concerts.

“It’s a wonderful way for us to give back to the community ... turning their disabilities into abilities and empowering them with new skills,” said Courtney Stuecheli Paczosa, executive director of the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program.

For Majors, a native Louisianan, it is the first time he’s been to Colorado.He hasn’t skied before, much less tried mono-skiing.

“Once I get used to it, it’ll be balls to the wall,” he said.

For Nappier, the trip has a different meaning. He’s hoping to become a ski coach, helping other disabled veterans learn the sport.

Nappier said he’s had years of tears, but on this trip, the tears have been of joy.

“I’ve been the happiest on this trip since I have been back from Iraq,” he said.

The welcoming for the service members was much different from the supporting veterans’ recollections of their homecomings.

“You’d melt away into the crowd,” said retired U.S. Airforce Senior Vice Commander Orville Kline, member of the DAV chapter 17. “This is outstanding and is going to be a good morale booster. This is what they should have done (for Vietnam vets). People think, as long as it doesn’t affect me, I don’t care — the whole thing does affect them and we forget so easy. We forget. We forget.”

Member of the Blue Star Mothers Anna Boden said she’ll never forget. Her son joined the military at 20 years old; he was welcomed home just weeks ago.

“It’s my honor to be here for them. It’s the least I can do for what they’ve seen, been through and will go through,” she said. “There are things they’ll live with the rest of their life, branded with nightmares. That’s why we should support them. Whether I agree with President Bush or not, it doesn’t matter.”

Contact Kati O’Hare via e-mail at katio@montrosepress.com

Ellie