At American Legion Post 20 on Friday, Veterans Day was celebrated with a series of speeches, commemorations and the firing of rifles.
Veterans Day, commemorating the end of the first World War, is an opportunity to celebrate the service of all United States military veterans, Post Commander Dave Segura said, as he led the ceremony Friday.
Speakers included State Senate President Peter Micciche, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre, Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel and representatives of both Gov. Mike Dunleavy and U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan.
A special recognition was given to Bill Fields, a 101-year-old veteran and founding member of the Soldotna chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars who earned a Purple Heart for his service in World War II.
Segura spoke of the challenges of military service, drawing comparisons to civilian employment. No other job, he said, can press criminal charges for disobeying a boss, or tell individuals where to live and when to quit. He connected those differences — as well as transitional challenges, stress and feelings of isolation — to the significantly higher rate of suicide in veterans.
“If we’re going to stop suicide it is crucial that we look at this issue much differently than prior generations,” he said. “If we wait for someone to make an attempt before we reach out there is a very real chance that it will be too late. Veterans value courage and it takes courage to ask for help.”
Segura urged the veterans in attendance to be there for one another, saying “very few of us are trained counselors or mental health professionals, but we are capable of listening, referring and following up.”
He said that it was “up to us” to ensure that the new Suicide & Crisis Hotline — 988 — becomes as widely known as 911. Extension “1” is for veterans.
Micciche credited American veterans with the systems of government in place today, which he referred to as “the greatest experiment known to mankind”
“A lot of countries don’t have that.”
“Veterans Day,” Navarre said, “is an opportunity for the citizens of a grateful nation to say ‘thank you.’”
Gabriel credited the military for “the things that I’ve been able to enjoy, my family, and the freedoms that we enjoy.”
Elaina Spraker, regional director for Sullivan, read a message on his behalf. Sullivan boasted of Alaska as having the highest number of veterans per capita in the nation.
“Our veterans have fought and defended freedom at far reaches of the globe,” she read. “We are here to honor them today.”
Sullivan’s message closed by acknowledging the work veterans do after leaving military service, existing as members of local communities.
Jill Schaefer, an assistant to Dunleavy, read an executive proclamation marking Nov. 11, 2022, as Veterans and Remembrance Day in Alaska. She called on Alaskans to honor veterans for their service by participating in “ceremony and expressions of gratitude” and encouraged employers to hire veterans.