By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
After much panting and rolling in the dirt, the players start to wander toward the iron gate. More dogs are coming in, dainties and brutes alike, manners unknown. As with kids having too much fun at a birthday party, it's important to know when to leave, before things end badly. — Alan Prendergast Fort Logan National Cemetery
3698 South Sheridan
Air Force veteran Jim McCoskey hadn't planned to spend so much time at Fort Logan National Cemetery — at least not yet. He was happily retired ("Sitting around, doing nothing," he admits) when his wife stopped by Fort Logan to do some genealogy research and saw a flier about volunteering. Back home, she suggested that McCoskey sign up. "It was one of those 'Yes, dear' things," he says, laughing. "What she really wanted was me out of the house."
Today looks to be lighter than usual for McCoskey, who mans the Fort Logan information desk flanked by oversized photos of President George W. Bush and Jim Nicholson, the outgoing Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Only six burials are on tap, as opposed to a staggering 27 on August 20 — just three off the one-day record set in 2006. He estimates that fifteen to twenty people are laid to rest at the cemetery every day. "This is our peak year for World War II vets," notes McCoskey, who served a four-year hitch that began in 1961, all of it stateside. "They're in their eighties or nineties now."
These new permanent residents will have plenty of company owing to the long history of Fort Logan, which was established in 1887 on a site selected by Lieutenant General Philip H. Sheridan. During the two years before it was officially named Fort Logan (after John Alexander Logan, who supervised Union volunteer forces during the Civil War), locals informally dubbed it "Fort Sheridan" and referred to the route to its north as "Sheridan Road" — hence the boulevard's handle to this day.
Just over a month before the fort's August 9, 1889, christening, the first recorded burial took place: that of Mabel Peterkin, the daughter of a private stationed at the fort. Before long, other remains wound up near Mabel's, and the markers in this portion of the cemetery, along the northern boundary of the property near the entrance to a pathway called Denver Drive, are more diverse than those anywhere else at the cemetery. The sizes and shapes often vary, and the lettering stamped onto them frequently lacks even the most basic dates and information. One simply reads "E. HOFFMEISTER: CIVILIAN." Another lists "BOYD: INFANT."
Also close by is arguably the most unusual plot on the grounds. It contains Karl F. Baatz, the sole prisoner of war interred at Fort Logan. He was a corporal, he was a German, he died on November 29, 1943, and his tombstone has more space on either side of it than any of the others in this section. It's physically set apart as a symbolic way of letting visitors know that he was one of them, not one of us.
The sense of community is stronger elsewhere at the facility, which became a national cemetery in 1950, four years after its namesake fort was shuttered. Many of the white stones, which are laid out in seemingly endless rows over Fort Logan's 214 acres, feature engravings on the front for veterans and on the back for family members, and the spare details they include only add to their poignancy. Decades of heartbreak are encapsulated in the words on one marker: "HIS WIFE AND DAUGHTER: EVELINE, DEC 19 1927-MAR 27 1995: PATRICIA, NOV 4 1959-NOV 5 1959." Likewise, the facts of Melvin L. Poundstone's military service in World War II and Korea are put into context by the concluding inscription: "LOVING HUSBAND DADDY & GRANDPA."
Veterans like Poundstone, who died earlier this year, are falling at a steady pace — so many that on days like August 20, the ranks of the All Veterans Honor Guard, a group of approximately 100 men and women from assorted American Legion and VFW posts who offer color-guard and gun-salute tributes at burial services, are stretched thin. On this morning, however, no Guard members are on hand, and there isn't a single random visitor in view. The only signs of life are identically clad maintenance-crew members mowing and trimming the grass, and traffic whizzing past along Sheridan.
McCoskey knows people will be along later, however, and he's looking forward to seeing them. The prospect of dealing with grieving relatives for hour upon hour might seem depressing, but he insists that it's anything but. "I'll feel better going home tonight than I did coming in," he says. "It makes me feel good that I've helped someone."
No doubt his wife agrees. — Roberts
Town of Bow Mar
Quincy Avenue and South Sheridan
A rustic wood-and-cast-iron sign announces the boundary of the town of Bow Mar — population 800-plus — at the point where busy Sheridan splinters into a broken mix of residential streets. Segregated from the suburb of Littleton by a stone gate, the former farmland is abundantly green, some of the beautifully manicured lawns sporting that almost-fluorescent verdant shade that suggests the owners aren't too concerned about so-called water shortages. Two Columbine Valley Police SUVs cruise the streets, securing Bow Mar's safety from intruders.