Some reminded of the true meaning of Memorial Day
May 28, 2001
Eighty-year-old Chester Backes remembers when Memorial Day wasn’t just another day off from work.
“We were always in full uniform and I carried my rifle,” Backes, a World War II veteran, said from his Milner home.
“We’d walk out of the VFW and march, and fire off a bunch of rounds to honor the dead veterans.”
The Backes family has good reason to remember the significance of Memorial Day. Chester Backes’ younger brother, Warren Backes, served in Korea, and his grandson, Otis Lewis, served in the Persian Gulf.
The eldest Backes served in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, famous for its “ski troops.”
He was working in the Mount Harris coal mine when he received his draft letter in 1944. He wound up fighting in several mountain campaigns in Italy including the famous Riva Ridge Battle where future U.S. senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole was injured.
Chester Backes said he didn’t train with the 10th Division at its Rocky Mountain site north of Leadville, but because he had been a skier in Steamboat Springs, he managed to work his way into the famous division.
He said when the company was resting, he served as the baker. During marching he became an “ammo bearer” for the machine guns on the front lines.
Like many veterans, Chester Backes said he has tried to put much of what he saw in the war behind him. He doesn’t like to discuss what he endured at the battles of Riva Ridge and Mount Belvedere
Warren Backes’ wife, Beverly Ann, held her husband’s hand and asked him about seeing friends, people he knew, who were shot.
“You would see the bodies brought back and they weren’t covered,” Warren Backes said, shaking his head.
“There are some things you don’t want to remember,” Lewis added.