MONTROSE – Swaying in the breeze, under a small tree in the shade last Friday, a mixture of brass and stainless steel collided to create a soft tinkling. The sounds resembled a crystalline lullaby. This “music” actually came from spent munitions casings, dog tags, and red, white and blue-painted ceramic hearts, all components of new, two-foot-long wind chimes. The chimes are hand-made to symbolize both the sacrifice of America's veterans, and how veterans preserve our freedoms – and Montrose residents can expect to hear and see more of them this weekend.
Volunteers and staff of the Welcome Home Montrose Warrior Resource Center, along with the local Altrusa International Club, have collaborated to create 100 of the wind chimes. They will disperse them around town on Memorial Day, Monday May 27.
The "Let Freedom Ring" project was designed to "generate awareness, recognition and gratitude" for military veterans, said volunteer Linda Granzow, who spent part of last Friday winding twine through holes that had been drilled through spent bullet casings.
The chimes are free for people to take and hang in recognition of someone who has served, or is currently serving, in the armed forces.
"I like the idea a lot. It's not something people have to buy. It's something we want to give as a thank you. We want them to be where people will see them and want to take them," Granzow said. She added that the Memorial Day event is a "kick off" for this project; eventually, many more chimes will be made and become available, though details about distribution or sales have not been finalized.
Three years' worth of spent brass casings, fired from 21-gun-salute volleys at local veterans' funerals, have been collected and donated towards the project. Otherwise, the casings would have been recycled, according to Vietnam veteran Gary Gratton, commander of Montrose's Disabled American Veterans Chapter 17.
"We can find the money for new rounds. I'd much rather give them to the people. To me it's personal, because I carried an M-14 in Vietnam. That's my memory of Vietnam, that type of bullet casing," Gratton said.
Gratton described the use of the brass in the chimes as a "symbol of belonging."
"That's how I think the veterans will look at it,” he said. Serving in the armed forces “Was about being a part of something that was bigger than me. That needs to be in the forefront of people's minds – that the military is keeping this country free.”
Gratton turned 21 in Vietnam. He served there from 1967 through 1968. It was the beginning of a 27-year career in the Marine Corps.
He said the local chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, the DAV and the local U.S. Army National Guard unit work together to provide gravesite memorial services for veterans who have passed away.
It is estimated that 15 local veterans die each year, according to Gratton, who added that the generation from WWII is rapidly disappearing and deserves continued recognition.
The project is being supported with funds and volunteers from Altrusa Club, according to club member Joyce Loss.
Loss’s family members have participated in every U.S. armed conflict since WWI: her father was a Marine in WWI, her brother was a Marine during WWII, her husband was in Korea, and her son was in the Navy during Vietnam. Her great nephew was one of the Navy Seals killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in 2011. She said the chimes project deserves the public’s support, and hopes the community will take time to remember and cherish these who have served.
The chimes will be hung in most public places around town. Details about the Let Freedom Ring project are published on a card attached to each chime.
For more information, contact the WRC at 970/765-2210, drop by the organization in person at 11 South Park Ave. in Montrose, or visit its web site at welcomehomemontrose.org.