Carousel brings vets together

carousel bagpipes and scoutsBarbara Lawlor, Nederland. It was a weekend of fun and games, grilled hot dogs, live alpacas, stuffed animals of all species, music, and all the joy that the Carousel of Happiness has to offer. Celebrating their five-year anniversary, the carousel hosted over 2,000 visitors who came to ride and play—700 people each day.

In spite of the continuing gloomy weather, Nederland was filled with families who wanted to say Happy Birthday, including bunches of children who found a happy, warm, dry haven with the town’s menagerie of whimsical welcoming carousel animals.

On Monday, Memorial Day, the carousel woke up on a more somber note. It was a day to remember those veterans who had died, not just in battle, but also as a result of the impact that combat leaves on the body, heart and soul.

The Carousel of Happiness creator, Scott Harrison, a Vietnam veteran, came out of the service knowing he needed to build a place of peace and joy to share, to help comfort and salve wounds of those in pain. With patience and dedication he hand-carved the graceful, comical, one-of-a-kind animals that prance and flow around to music on a daily basis.

Five years ago, the doors opened and the people left their homes all over the world to visit Nederland and its landmark carousel. They come back often and they spread the word about one small place that gives out happiness for a $1 donation.

carousel memorial vetsOn Monday, the doors opened with a Girl Scout/Boy Scout color guard. The Scouts carried bouquets of red, white, and blue flowers. Bagpiper John Fuerst of Lakewood  led the group, the mournful tones of the bagpipes setting the mood.

After the flag ceremony, the Scouts sat down on the edge of the carousel floor while veterans and those who lost loved ones during a war circled it. Harrison related the story of veterans Chris Langenfeld from Wisconsin and Paul Christmas from New Jersey, who died in a firefight in Vietnam in 1968.

Tom Langkau, who traveled from Florida to attend the ceremony, said he had been friends with Langenfeld. “After Chris died I joined the Marines in his honor. Since then I have been looking for someone who knew Chris in the service. Two years ago I put a notice on a veteran’s Facebook page and I received a message from Scott, saying, ‘I was with Chris when he died.’”

Stunned, Langkau called another friend in Dallas and told him he wasn’t going to believe it, but he should pack up—they were going to Nederland.

After all this time, he had finally connected with someone who knew his friend during the war. He acknowledged Harrison’s efforts in creating the carousel and building a time and place to honor veterans.
“I have never seen anything like this,” he said.

The microphone was then handed to the people lined up around the carousel, giving them a chance to name a veteran who lost his or her life because of a war. Several of them named friends who had committed suicide.

Harrison said, “It is easy to remember people with sadness and important to remember them in a joyous way.” A Scout handed a flower to each speaker.

The bagpipes played “Amazing Grace,” and the carousel made its circles with no one riding: a time to remember and connect. A bugler played Taps, haunting notes rising to the carousel ceiling and then floating out the doors toward the mountains.

carousel memorial

Boy Scout Pack 170,  Daisy Girl Scout Troop 70341, and Junior Girl Scout Troop 3031 then joined the veterans on a ride, round and round, coming full circle again and again.

Local resident and 25-years-of-service veteran James Reis said,  “You have not lived until you do something for someone who cannot pay you back.”

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.