Final journey for woman devoted to honoring the fallen

5:04 PM, Dec 6, 2013   |    comments
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KUSA - In an era of bumper-sticker philosophies, Lorraine Melgosa couldn't let "Support Our Troops" linger mostly forgotten on the back of her pickup truck. She will tell you it's a concept she finally and fully understood the moment she left the funeral of a man she had never known personally.

"It was a Friday afternoon, and there was rush hour traffic. Cars were honking at me. People were cursing at me, and I just started to cry because I realized this stranger died for me and for all of these other ungrateful people on the road. That's when I knew I had to keep doing it," the self-described "podunk cowgirl" said.

That was back in 2005. She's been bringing her Percheron horses and 1867 hand-carved James Cunningham caisson to funerals for men and women killed in action ever since.

"It brings you to your knees to realize that a stranger died for you. You just have to do what you can do to honor that person and try to live a life worthy of somebody dying for you," she said.

Through snowy mornings and warm, summer afternoons she has managed to offer her services free of charge to parents caught up in the most difficult moments of their lives. Matthew Vandegrift died in 2008 while fighting in Iraq.

"Everything was a blur back then," explained his mother Mary Jane Vandegrift. "Yet (Lorriane's caisson) was the most memorable thing."

The relationship between Lorraine and the Vandegrifts remains strong to this day.

"She has never forgotten who we are and what we suffered. We'll just never forget who she is," said John Vandegrift.

Tino Vasquez lost his son in 2005. Eight years later, he still manages to get teary eyed thinking of the day Lorraine helped carry his son Justin to his grave.

"I can never repay her," he said. "She put in a lot of time and effort into it. I don't think we could ever thank her enough."

It all made Lorraine's recent decision to retire from the funeral business all the more difficult.

"I wish I could keep doing it," she said right before the services for Staff Sgt. Liam Nevins at Fort Logan National Cemetery.

The toll on her mind and body proved to be far too difficult for her to overcome, she said. Her health had taken a big hit over the years, and the cost of driving all over the state took an economic toll as well.

"It's hard to quit, but I'm not as young as I used to be. Sometimes it's just time. All good things must come to an end, but it does break my heart," she said.

She's provided her services more than 50 times and never charged a dime.

"My mom always raised us that you have to contribute to society with whatever gift God gives you. You have to use that for the betterment of society," she said.

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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