Founder of Freedom Memorial Shares Story
By Senior Airman Michelle Y. Alvarez-Rea, 140th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 15, 2015
AURORA, Colo. -- Rick Crandall, President of the Colorado Freedom Memorial Foundation, provides an inside look into how the memorial went from an idea to a reality and what it took to get it there.
On Memorial Day 2000, Crandall did a morning radio show broadcast from an American cemetery, located at Omaha Beach, in Normandy, France in honor of World War II Veterans. It was the first and only time anyone had done a full broadcast from Normandy back to the United States. It was during this broadcast that Crandall learned that 88 veterans from Colorado were buried there and 12 were listed as still missing. The superintendent of the cemetery advised Crandall that less than 20 percent of the young soldiers had ever received a visit from home, largely due to the restrictions that come with being buried thousands of miles away from home. Crandall walked away with a feeling that he just could not shake; the question of how to get them back home tugged at him regularly.
"This idea that somehow, someway we needed to let the families that were left behind and the men and women who served beside them, know that that sacrifice had not been forgotten and would be honored," said Crandall. He began creating a list of all Coloradoans killed in WWII and expanded to the Spanish American War and beyond.
His research led him to realize that there was not an existing list that accurately held this data. Over the years, changes in technology led to pertinent information being lost. Every time data storage technology changed, records were manually updated and names were lost or transcribed incorrectly.
"The first challenge became trying to discover who they were," said Crandall. "The second thing was that it would be a shame to just have it on a piece of paper, we should have it where people can see, and that was where the Colorado Freedom Memorial was born."
Crandall worked with a young designer from Denver, Kristoffer Kenton to bring this desire to honor Colorado Veterans to a tangible item that people could touch and feel and finally have a place of beauty and reverence where family and comrades could find peace in the memory of lost loved ones. Kenton's grandfather was a Prisoner of War in WWII and his father flew jets in Vietnam so he had a lot of military life in him and quickly came up with a vision to bring it all to life.
Crandall knew he wanted to accomplish three things. "It was to be unlike any other military memorial you would find, it needed to reflect the chaos of war and it would artistically tell the story of Colorado's heroes," said Crandall.
It was decided early on that the only names that would be displayed would be the names on the memorial. This requirement made raising money a much longer process because corporate sponsors wanted recognition and representation at the memorial. Crandall and Kenton held true to their original intent and after 12 years of fundraising they were still short $340k. In 2012, an anonymous donor contacted Crandall. His father was a submarine Captain in WWII and his wife's uncle was killed in the Korean War. The meaning and the purpose behind the memorial was very personal to him and he stated he wished to write a check for the remaining amount so the memorial could finally come to fruition. The anonymous donor now suffers from dementia and memory loss but was able to visit the memorial during a private viewing so he could see the place he had sponsored while it could still mean something to him.
In May 2013, the Colorado Freedom Memorial was officially opened to the public. It is the only memorial of its kind in the country. Colorado took all of its wars, from the Spanish American War through today, and listed by name every person that served without rank so that all sacrifices could be recognized as equal. The memorial is across the street from Buckley Air Force Base where every month a team of service members from Buckley cleans the memorial. The location was originally chosen as a place of peace and serenity that could not be found in the hustle and bustle of downtown. The symbolic tribute of having Taps play every evening for every man and woman on the memorial has become the perfect addition to the Colorado Freedom Memorial, a place of reflection and remembrance for all Coloradoans killed or missing in action.