Gold Star father Harold Geer of Cortez drove his son’s 1968 Dodge Charger to the La Plata County Fairgrounds on Thursday.
He parked it in front of the Exhibit Hall, drawing the interest of veterans who came and went from the annual daylong Southwest Colorado “Stand Down.”
The car, built in the Vietnam era, is a catalyst for making veterans stop and talk, Geer said.
“It lets them connect with their memories and different times,” he said. “I’ve heard war stories, I’ve heard car stories, I’ve heard mental-health stories – and it’s just good. I cry, they cry, we laugh, we hug.”
His son, George Geer, 27, was killed Jan. 17, 2005, when stopping a suspicious vehicle headed for an American compound in Iraq. Army troops removed one of the occupants and were trying to remove the driver when a “massive” car bomb exploded, killing troops and civilians, Harold Geer said.
Geer’s car was a momentary diversion for the more than 100 veterans who received a “hand up” at the event, which included massages, acupuncture, legal advice, haircuts and much more.
The goal is to connect veterans with benefits before winter arrives, said Jenna Schaefer, event coordinator.
“It’s for all veterans, but the target is to find the homeless and at-risk veterans,” she said. “It’s a hand up, not a handout.”
The Stand Down is a one-stop shop for veterans who may not otherwise know what services are available to them, she said.
“The military and the civilian world are two different worlds, and this helps them integrate back into the civilian world,” Schaefer said. “It’s a way for the community to show support for the veterans and for the veterans to see that the community supports them.”
Ben Martinez, owner of ReyLynn’s Barber Lounge Hair Studio, said a new look can boost confidence and help veterans find employment.
“It’s just a way to give back,” said Martinez, who has participated in the annual Southwest Colorado “Stand Down” event for three years. “If you love this community, you’ve got to love our vets.”
Stand Down has grown during its past four years in Durango, both in the number of participants and vendors providing services, Schaefer said.
Kassidy’s Kitchen served hot meals to veterans all day.
AJ Deschneau of Bayfield said he first attended the Stand Down two years ago and was connected with the Veterans Affairs clinic for the first time.
“Just to see the support in general; it’s amazing,” he said. “I’m glad they put it on.”
Martinez said helping veterans is more than a one-day activity for him. He makes connections at the Stand Down and is willing to help those in need any time of the year, he said.
“What they do for us, the least we can do is to give them a free haircut,” Martinez said. “It’s pretty cool being a barber. It’s kind of like a therapist. You’re able to lend support and encouragement.”