War affects everyone in some way, whether or not they’ve gone to war or know someone who did. Part of our culture is honoring the fallen, and one Watertown resident has been doing so for decades. With 95 flags and crosses adorning his front yard, Rick Denomme and his wife Joyce have created their own veterans memorial for neighbors to come and visit.
“I’m a Vietnam vet,” said Denomme. “My company had 95 that were killed.”
While Denomme doesn’t remember when exactly he started this tradition, he knows it’s been at least a decade if not two. Drafted in December of 1965, Denomme was among the first group to arrive in Vietnam. Part of “the first row and a half” of his company, he personally saw 13 of his comrades be killed in action.
Years after returning home, Denomme began honoring his fallen company with flags. Beginning with the 13 he knew, he began to get to know their families. Eventually, as part of attending reunions for veterans and their families, he learned about the other members in his company. Through the relationship with their families, he started to honor them as well. After meeting a particular family member who made glass crosses, he made his own to add.
That’s what leads us to now, with 95 crosses and flags symbolizing those who didn’t come home from their service.
“Once I got more involved, and started getting together for reunions, it just evolved,” said Denomme.
All of the crosses have the name of the veteran on them as well as a picture and date of death, with one unique one among the group. Guests may notice a black cross among the others, which symbolizes that his remains were never found even after all this time.
For Denomme, these crosses honor the fallen, but also to make the community think. While there are of course a few outliers, many of the soldiers represented were between the ages of 19 and 22 due to being drafted. And Denomme is only representing one company, where 95 were killed in action. While a visually large amount, the crosses represent a tiny fraction of the ones who didn’t come home.
“War is terrible, and there’s no justifiable reason for it,” said Denomme. “It may be necessary at times, but it was hell.”
After last year’s Memorial Day bringing out dozens to his home, Denomme planned for more guests this year. He had water and cookies available for any guests coming, and greeted as many as possible. The memorial itself has already been put away, but Denomme plans to continue putting it up every year. The crosses and flags usually go up a few days before Memorial Day and are removed the Tuesday afterwards.
For anyone who wants to see it next year, Denomme lives in Watertown at 716 Green Ave SE. Guests can walk through and look at the crosses, leave flowers, and talk to Denomme since he’s usually outside. For those that want to honor the fallen throughout the year, there are several veterans’ memorial sites throughout Carver County to visit.