Residents around the central Kenai Peninsula paused Monday to remember those who have died in service of their country.
Memorial Day began with the Posting of the Colors at the Avenue of Flags ceremony at the Kenai Cemetery at 10 a.m.
A small crowd gathered between two rows of massive flags at the first of three local ceremonies hosted and organized annually by the Kenai American Legion Post 20, Soldotna AMVETS Post 4 and Soldotna Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10046.
Crystal Stonecipher, Nathon Stonecipher, Rebecca Trickel, Charles Trickel and Destin Trickel stood together beside the gravestones, many with small flags moving lazily in the morning wind.
Destin Trickel said Memorial Day is about learning respect, a lesson Crystal Stonecipher said she tries to instill in her children by bringing them out to the services every year.
“It teaches us to respect the dead,” Destin Trickel said. “The dead are really important.”
His sister, Rebecca Trickel said the WWI Poem “In Flanders Field” paints a good picture. The poem was read by Korean War veteran Herb Stettler at the Leif Hansen Memorial Park and the Soldotna Community Memorial Park ceremonies.
“OK, flags are on the move,” Stonecipher said. “Take your hats off.”
Gulf War veteran and VFW Post Chaplain Richard Williams, who read aloud the Sons of The American Legion’s Memorial Prayer, spoke the first official words Monday.
“Almighty God, we are gathered here to honor our fallen dead,” Williams said. “All who have paid with their lives from one of the many devilish ways that man has contrived to maim or kill his fellow man; by bomb, bullet, shell, mine, fire, water, starvation, torture, disease.”
Chris Wehr annually attends all three local ceremonies. His father and father-in-law both served in WWII in the Army Corps, and growing up his family always observed the holiday.
“My parents used to drag me out, then I started to enjoy the guns going off, and then I realized the significance behind it all,” Wehr said. “It is a hallowed time to remember those who have fallen and the families that have sacrificed for us to have the freedoms we do.”
Each year there is something new or changed at each event, Wehr said.
Traditionally, the three local veterans groups include the Posting and Retiring of the Colors, rifle salute and ceremonial laying of wreathes. In each crowd, tiny, red paper poppies were twist-tied onto the chests of onlookers.
This year, Soldotna VWF Post commander Mike Meredith read words from Gov. Bill Walker at the ceremony held at Leif Hansen Memorial Park at noon.
Walker’s official statement, released on May 19, 2015, declares May 25 Memorial Day for 2015 in the state of Alaska. At 3 p.m. Walker called for a Moment of Silence to honor those that have fallen.
“Whereas, the military is so prevalent in Alaska; we are reminded so often of the dedication of its current members, its retired members, its fallen members and all of their families,” read Walker’s statement.
More than 73,000 Alaska residents are veterans, according to the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, which equates to nearly 1 in 10.
Carol Broussard, surrounded by her children and grandchildren, said she hopes their presence shows surviving veterans their lost loved ones are not forgotten.
“We hope it encourages them,” Broussard said.
At the Soldotna Community Memorial Park service held 2 p.m. Monday, former Soldotna Mayor David Carey introduced Dave Thompson, who read an original poem titled “America’s White Crosses,” and guest speakers Soldotna Mayor Nels Anderson and Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna.
“We celebrate Memorial Day to remember our values,” Carey said.
Memorial Day services teach the younger generation the importance of honoring the fallen, as well as the ideals the U.S. is founded on, Carey said. Some day those same children may serve, he said.