Steamboat Springs — More than 200 photos on display at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort served as a solemn reminder of the ultimate sacrifices made by Colorado soldiers.
Their loved ones were in Steamboat Springs this weekend to heal.
The Hall of Heroes exhibit was set up for the 9th annual Gold Star Family Weekend held by Blue Star Moms of Colorado. About 170 family members of fallen soldiers attended the event, which concluded Sunday with a service at the top of the gondola at Steamboat Ski Area. In past years, the event has been held in Estes Park, and this was the first time it was hosted in Steamboat. There were 78 families participating, and 28 of them were new to the event.
“We honor the fallen, and we honor the families,” said Durango resident Janna Schaefer, who planned the event.
One of the photos on display was of Staff Sgt. Daniel Bader, with the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Collins.
The 28-year-old was killed Nov. 2, 2003, near the city of Falluja in Iraq. He was headed home to Colorado when someone with a missile launcher shot down the Chinook helicopter he was riding. There were 15 soldiers who died that day.
Bader left behind a 14-month-old daughter named Taryn and wife, Tiffany. Bader’s mother, Lona Bader, on Sunday described her son as a loving father and caring person who was praised for his leadership.
When her son was killed, Lona Bader became a gold-star mother. She has another son actively serving in the South Carolina Army National Guard. This also makes her a blue-star mother.
When her son was killed, Bader said there was no support group in the Fort Carson area, and then she attended the first Gold Star Family Weekend in 2004.
“I had no idea what to expect,” Bader said. “I was overwhelmed when I saw all the love and support there, and meeting other gold-star parents that were in the same boat as I was. We all have one thing in common and that’s losing a son or daughter.”
Emotions run the gamut throughout the weekend, which Schaefer described as a safe place to heal. Resources are made available, including grief counselors.
“We laugh, tell our stories, we cry,” Bader said. “We don’t have to be afraid of what we say for fear of offending someone. It has just been wonderful here.”
At times, the weekend is emotionally draining.
On Saturday morning, a roll call ceremony was held in a ballroom at the Sheraton. During the ceremony, each soldier’s picture was shown on a screen, and the parents or other representative went up and lit a candle.
“By the time the roll call was over with, I was mentally exhausted,” Bader said.
But Bader expressed that it is worth it when the event concluded Sunday.
“Part of it is really draining, but this morning was really uplifting,” Bader said.
She said she is proud to be a gold-star mother and grateful for weekend event, which is free and made possible through donations and grants.
“It gave me that extra support and love,” Bader said. “It just kind of uplifts me and lets me know I’m not alone.”
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland