Snow was coming down, as it tends to do in Colorado this time of year. The temperatures were well below freezing. And it was 4 in the morning.
But that didn’t stop what is now a 62-year-old Veterans Day tradition for members of American Legion Post 15 in Loveland, Colo. Members of Post 15 – along with Legionnaires from Post 2000 in Loveland and surrounding American Legion posts – and other volunteers hopped into their pickup trucks, each loaded in the back with a large metal bell, and drove the streets of Loveland for nearly two hours, ringing the bells to commemorate the end of “the war to end all war.”
The bell ringing, which honors the celebration that occurred on Armistice Day in 1918, signaling the end of World War I, is part of a Veterans Day lineup that is coordinated by Post 15 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 41. The two, along with American Legion Auxiliary Unit 15, Sons of The American Squadron 15 and VFW Auxiliary Unit 41, make up the Veterans Association of Loveland, which owns the facility in which the groups meet and has oversight over the Veterans Day activities that also include a parade and ceremony. Unit 15 also hosts a community breakfast in the morning, while Squadron 15 places U.S. flags throughout downtown Loveland and then hosts an afternoon meal.
Department of Colorado Junior Vice Commander Tony Dumosch, who serves as Post 15’s adjutant and historian, moved to Loveland in 2000 after retiring from the Navy. He’s been participating in the Veterans Day bell ringing since 2003 and began driving a bell in his truck seven years ago. He said the reason for coming out in the middle of the night to participate in the event is a two-word answer.
“Honor and tradition,” Dumosch said. “It’s an honor to do it. It’s an honor to those who are serving and those who served before. And it’s about tradition. This is very unique, and I’d hate to see it go away. If you don’t want it to go away, you’ve got to be a part of it. I wish to be a part of it.”
According to the Loveland News, the anniversary of the armistice has been celebrated in the city since 1918, but the current version of celebration began in 1956. Brothers Wayne and Harry Bath, both veterans, put a 500-pound school bell into the back of their truck and drove it around town early morning on Veterans Day.
Legionnaire Tony Abbott moved to Loveland when he was 4 years old and remembers hearing the bells “ever since I can remember being in Loveland. It is engrained with you.”
Abbott, the Department of Colorado’s sergeant-at-arms, a former member of Post 15 and current member of Post 2000, has served as the bell ringing coordinator for “seven or eight years,” he said. This year 17 trucks participated, spreading out to cover 15 mapped-out areas that covered all of Loveland. Abbott himself drove around carrying a 14-inch bell he purchased on eBay. He estimates he put around 100 hours into cleaning it up and built the stand for it. But it’s all worth it.
“For me, it’s paying tribute to the people that I was with during the military,” Abbott said. “It’s a tribute to those who came before me who did this. It’s keeping the history and the heritage of it alive, and then also keeping it alive for the people who come after us. When I’m gone … when we’re all gone, we’re hoping someone’s still here doing this.”
Beginning at 4 a.m. – the time in Europe when the armistice to end World War I was signed – the drivers and their bells travel throughout the city streets for the next two hours, many ringing bells that have been in their families for years. Some residents stand outside to wave to the trucks as they pass by, while others turn their porch lights on and off to acknowledge the bells.
Department of Colorado Commander Robb Smith, a member of Post 2000, moved to Loveland in 1995 and has been taking part in the bell ringing for years. His wife usually rides shotgun with Smith but was at a church retreat this year. Smith’s daughter usually also rides along, bringing a friend with her. “We do it as a family,” Smith said.
Instead of driving his own truck this year, Smith rode with Abbott. Having participated for years hasn’t dimmed Smith’s enthusiasm about the event. “It’s awesome. It’s fantastic,” he said. “We take a lot of pride in this. Every bell ringer has their own personality when it comes to how they do their bell, their lights, their flags. And in more cases than not, they like to ring their own neighborhoods. So it’s a source of pride within their communities.”
Smith said volunteers use a variety of bells: old farm bells, school bells, railroad bells, “whichever bell they can find.” No matter the bell, the mission is remembered.
"When you’re ringing … you think about when all the church bells rang, all the school bells rang, everybody rang (on Armistice Day),” Smith said. “They didn’t have the Internet and all those things to put out the word. This was how they did it.”
Smith and Dumosch founded American Legion Post 2000 in 2012 when the pair felt that Loveland could sustain two American Legion posts that complemented each other. The fledgling post started its own Veterans Day tradition in 2017 with what Smith said will be an annual Veterans Days fundraiser at Grimm Brothers Brewhouse in Loveland. The first year it raised funds for Community Living Center at the Cheyenne VA Medical Center, while this year’s brought in donations for the Department of Colorado’s Veterans Assistance Fund, which provides help to veterans in need and is Smith’s 2018-2019 department commander’s project.
Another event was added to the normal Veterans Day lineup this year. Prior to the parade, at 11 a.m. local time, several bell-ringing participants and other volunteers took part in a World War I Centennial Commission Bells of Peace event, ringing their bells 21 times to commemorate the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
The parade included local Junior ROTC and Civilian Air Patrol students, the Mountain View High School band, representatives from the Legion and VFW, other veterans, classic cars, military vehicles and local dignitaries.
The parade route, which spanned more than a mile from downtown Loveland to Dwayne Webster Veterans Park, was lined with local residents who braved the 17-degree wind chill, snow showers and occasional sleet to show their support for veterans marching in the less-than-ideal conditions.
Included in those supporters were U.S. Army veteran David A. Bossie, who came to the parade with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons – the latter he took part with in a Veterans Day event at their school in 2017. “I think in elementary school they are educated to respect veterans much than how it was when I was in elementary school,” Bossie said.
Brittany Kanzler, Bossie’s daughter, said they brought their children to the parade because “it’s great to honor the veterans. It’s a respectful thing to do. We like to teach them about the military, and if it’s a choice they ever want to do it’s great. There are great opportunities serving your country.”
At Dwayne Webster Veterans Park, more than 100 people gathered for a short ceremony that included remarks from U.S. Marine Corps veteran Brian Ivers, a retired master gunnery sergeant and Fort Collins, Colo., Police Services officer and father of two Marines.
Ivers said he wasn’t surprised the 17-degree wind chill weather didn’t deter the veterans in the audience from attending the ceremony. “In my heart, in my soul, a gray sky, snow falling on the ground, it’s no better way to honor your veterans,” he said. “Because there’s only two temperatures in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard: too hot and too cold. There’s only dry and wet.”
During the ceremony it also was announced that the Loveland Veterans Day celebration had been named a National Veterans Day Regional Site by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA Veterans Day National Committee recognizes select Veterans Day observances throughout the country that represent fitting tributes to America’s heroes serve as models for other communities to follow in planning their own observances.
While the Veterans Association of Loveland has oversight over the Veterans Day events, the community plays a big role in making it a success. Loveland Mayor Jacki Marsh became the city’s first mayor to take part in the bell ringing this year, riding in the backseat of Dumosch’s pickup truck and pulling the rope to ring the bell stationed in the bed of his truck.
The former wife of a Vietnam veteran who was stationed in United States, Marsh said veterans are “near and dear to my heart. I remember what it was like for those people serving (during the Vietnam War), how scary it was. The vets were treated pretty horribly.”
When Veterans Day falls on a school day, the Loveland Elks Club pays to bus the students downtown for the parade. The city covers the costs of blocking off streets for the parade.
And local Cub and Boy Scouts raise 18-foot flagpoles and the burial flags donated by families of veterans buried at Loveland Burial Park at the gravesites of those veterans, starting at 6 a.m. on Veterans Day.
“We like to do a bunch of service hours,” said Henry Stillson, 11, a member of Cub Scout Troop 314. “To me, it actually means, ‘Hey, we’re honoring you. Even though you’ve passed, you’re still so special to me.’”
The reaction to the bell ringing, the community involvement, the crowds along the parade and then the attendance at the closing ceremony are proof to Abbott how much the city has embraced the Veterans Day celebration. “It’s a tremendous feeling to know the whole city supports this,” he said. “My neighbors love the fact they see me out getting the bell ready. They wave at me and stop and talk.”
The community support also is a source of pride for Dumosch. “On the tradition, the honor and the support of veterans, this city has never wavered,” he said. “We get 1,000-1,500 (school) kids lining the streets every year. That alone is so, so amazing. Not for me, but to see our World War II veterans who are perishing, our Korean War veterans and our Vietnam War veterans who never got that welcome, that’s what brings the true feeling to me as an individual. It’s a breath of fresh air.”