Fallen Soldiers, Gold Star Families Honored
The metallic blue stars provided a stark contrast to the neatly polished gold banisters at Colorado’s state Capitol on Wednesday, Dec. 12. And as the piney scent drew visitors in a bit closer to the majestic fir, it was clear that the Yuletide ornaments held in its boughs were like no other. These handmade, glitter-ridden tokens shining brightly from the Holiday Tree, honored Colorado’s fallen soldiers and their families. Each had a story to tell. Here is the story about the one remembered in Leadville Today.
Flags Fly to Honor Fallen Leadville Marine
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today
Tis the season for Christmas parties and office get-togethers. But if you’re wondering why the flags are flying on historic Harrison Avenue in Leadville Today, it has nothing to do with the holidays. It’s a commemoration; it’s a promise to #neverforget Marine Lance Corporal Nicklas J. Palmer. One of Leadville’s hometown heroes is the reason why flags fly every December 16 in America’s highest city.
It was 12 years ago today when Brad and Rachele Palmer were getting ready for a work Christmas party when a knock came to the door which would forever change the course of their lives. It was 2006, and the Palmers had just returned home after getting things set up for the Lake County Public Works annual holiday celebration. Brad was trying to get in an afternoon nap, and Rachele was tending to something in the kitchen when a knock came to the front door. Brad called out for his wife to get it. But as she headed toward the door, Rachele recalled, she thought twice about answering it. They weren’t expecting anyone. However, “something pushed me to answer the door,” she explained.
Two U.S. Marines known as Casualty Assistance Calls (CAC) Officers were standing on the other side.
“My heart just sank,” Rachele explained. After all, she knew what it meant. In August 2005 after graduating from Lake County High School, their youngest son had enlisted in the United States Marine Corp. By December 16, 2006, Lance Corporal Nicklas J. Palmer was fighting over in Fallujah, Iraq. He was only 19 years old.
“I knew that they were here with news, and it wasn’t going to be good news; it was going to be bad,” Palmer continued with her story. Of course, like most mothers, Rachele tried to remain hopeful for those first few seconds: they were going to say that Nick had been injured and was overseas recovering in a hospital somewhere. But sadly, her first instinct was right. It was bad news, very bad news: Nick had been killed in action. He had been shot in the face by a single bullet and died instantly.
Brad joined his wife at the door as these specially trained Marines delivered the devastating details of their son’s death. Fortunately, CAC Officers are prepared for all types of responses. Brad, who to this day is challenged to discuss his son without producing a puddle of broken-hearted tears – a complete contradiction to the tough, solid man that heads up the public works crews – responded to the news of his son’s death with unabashed grief. He released an arsenal of screaming and profanity-ridden rants that only the loss of a child can reveal.
“It took me until the next morning to realize that Nick was really gone,” said Brad in an interview with Leadville Today. Still, these CAC military men had a job to do. And so they spent the next 40 minutes explaining the very honorable military protocols and procedures that were in place for bringing their Marine brother – and the Palmer’s youngest son – home.
“After they left, I turned and I grabbed Brad. We held on to each other. We broke down,” Rachele continued. “We made a pact and a promise that we would be there for each other, that we wouldn’t turn our backs on one another. We would have to do this together.”
Transforming Pain Into Purpose
That was 12 years ago. Since then, how the Palmers have chosen to deal with their loss can be seen as a hopeful Christmas tale. It’s a story about Gold Star families, who have lost a relative. It’s a story about the time, efforts and resources the Leadville couple and countless volunteers have spent in upgrading the Lake County Veterans Memorial and bringing new life into its annual services. It’s a story about dedicating highways to heroes who make the ultimate sacrifice, and then bringing dozens of visitors on those roads to Leadville every May to honor veterans at the Memorial Day Services.
It’s a story about traveling the country, to speak at veterans events, sharing their own painful story so that others may have hope to know that there is life on the other side of tragedy. And for The Palmers, their mission of keeping Nick’s story alive continued last Wednesday as they gathered with dozens of other families from across Colorado for last week’s private Holiday Tree ceremony for Gold Star families at the Colorado State Capitol.
Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Colorado First Families have chosen repeatedly to dedicate the tree in honor of Gold Star families, the relatives of US military members who died in battle. And so it was for Governor John Hickenlooper as he addressed about 150 people gathered in the north foyer under Colorado’s Golden Dome last Wednesday, Dec. 12.
“I want to thank all of the Gold Star families that are here. It’s always the most pointed reminder of the sacrifices made by your family members who lost their lives. I hope that each and every one of you can find some peace and happiness over the holidays,” stated Gov. Hickenlooper as families hung the commemorative ornaments on the 80-foot fir, patriotically dressed in red, white (silver) and blue.
Many relatives recorded the PowerPoint presentation which rotated pictures of their lost loved ones, respectfully displayed with their military honors. Plenty of family pictures were taken by the Holiday Tree which was harvested at 8,500 feet in northern Larimer County. And over a generous spread of food and drink, memories were shared as Gold Star families caught up with each other, being members of a club that nobody wants to belong to.
“And you know, one thing I’ve said every time, and this will be the last time I get to say it,” concluded the Governor referring to his term-limited 8 years in office. “On behalf of the entire state of Colorado, thank you. Thank you so very much.”