SAGUACHE COUNTY – The Mountains of the Rio Grande National Forest conceal mystery. The sort of mystery that fills a field as it fills a void.
Hidden away in the 1.8-million-acre forest is a treasure few people are aware of. It was created nearly 20 years ago by a man who devoted the remaining years of his life to honoring soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War.
"He was really enchanted with it. It was his only goal in life for the last 30 years," Phyllis Beckley Roy said.
Roy is referring to her brother, Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Allen Beckley. Beckley fought in Vietnam from 1962 through 1973. After the war, Roy said her brother was deeply impacted by Vietnam and wanted to do something for his fellow soldiers – as well as the other countries affected by the war.
"He just couldn't believe that people could not know what was going on, and he decided he would take any penny he could scrape together to build a memorial to honor the people who were not honored," Roy said.
Beckley's idea to build a stone memorial on national forest land was initially denied. But when the forest supervisor for the Rio Grande National Forest, Jim Webb (now retired), discovered Beckley was dying of cancer, he changed his mind.
According to the Forest Service, Webb received a letter from Beckley that read, "I am running out of life … have 6 to 8 months to live and need all the help I can muster."
Beckley's last mission in life was to establish a lasting tribute in memory of the soldiers of Vietnam and Laos. His dream eventually became reality. By the mid-90s, SOLDIERSTONE had been built.
"He designed it, and he bought everything that went into it," Roy said.
Beckley didn't have many connections to Colorado. He chose the Rio Grande National Forest because of its proximity to the Continental Divide – and because it was a large forest that could easily hide his memorial.
According to Roy, Beckley didn't want many people to know about it. He never intended for large crowds to visit it and to take pictures of it.
"The idea was he wanted it to be secluded. He didn't want people to vandalize it," Roy said.
According to Roy, Beckley figured veterans would hear about it and spread word to their fellow soldiers who were impacted by the Vietnam War.
"He only wanted people to find it who deserved to find it. It was about them," Roy said.
On a recent summer day, a man named William Dooley found himself trekking through a large field with his wife by his side. Dooley had served in the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry. After Vietnam, Dooley found himself living in Montana. But on this particular day, SOLDIERSTONE brought him home.
"The fact someone went through this much trouble to put it up means quite a bit. And it means quite a bit to everyone who knows about it," Dooley said.
Dooley heard about the memorial in a Veteran's newsletter. He and his wife made the trip from Montana just to try and find it.
"It brings back a flood of memories," Dooley said as he glanced over at the stone.
Nestled along the base of the memorial is a box that contains a notepad. The notepad serves as a log for any soldier who stumbles upon it.
A recent submission came from David Wendl, who also served in Vietnam. Wendl had been to SOLDIERSTONE before. The first time he visited it, he marveled in its glory.
"The more you know about the world, the luckier we are. I mean, you're damn happy you was born here in this country," he said.
The main memorial is surrounded by several stones with quotes engraved in them. Each stone is written in a different language. One, which is written in Vietnamese reads, "Although we have at times been strong, at times weak, we have at no time lacked heroes".
For many, Lt. Col. Beckley is a hero for building the memorial.
In a pamphlet provided by the Forest Service, one paragraph explained, "[SOLDIERSTONE] is a realization of one man's dream to honor fallen soldiers in a quiet, natural setting."
According to the Forest Service, a letter written by Beckley stated "my name is not to appear anywhere on the monument's grounds… it's 'for them', not 'for us.' Everyone who works on SOLDIERSTONE should do so out of respect and humility ... our job is to get it done and leave it to nature."
On Nov. 5, 1995, Lt. Col. Beckley passed away. His legacy lives on, hidden in the woods of the Rio Grande National Forest.
Reporter's note: While producing this story, Photojournalist Chris Hansen and I made every effort to respect Lt. Col. Beckley's wishes to keep the location of SOLDIERSTONE a secret. That's why it is not mentioned in our story on-air and in this article. Beckley's sister, Phyllis Beckley Roy is currently writing a book about her brother and SOLDIERSTONE.
(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)