VFW Post Commander Ann Toutant’s sturdy voice echoed throughout the Soldotna Community Memorial Park Monday afternoon as she accounted for the hundreds to millions of soldiers that died as a result of each U.S. war since the American Revolutionary War in 1775.
Skies stayed clear Memorial Day, and warm breezes persisted enough for hundreds of central Kenai Peninsula community members to turn out and publically honor those men and women.
“They died for my freedom, and they died for my right to go to combat and I will always honor them,” Toutant said to a sprawling crowd during a noon ceremony at Leif Hansen Memorial Park in Kenai, where the deep rumble of Amvets Riders awakened onlookers during the Posting of the Colors.
Toutant spoke at two of the holiday’s three local events in Soldotna and Kenai, hosted by the Kenai American Legion Post 20, Soldotna AMVETS Post 4 and Soldotna Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10046.
Toutant said a number of public officials asked her to apologize to the attendees for not being able to make the services. Toutant said she was not there to speak for those who were alive who could not attend, but for those who had died and did not have a choice.
It is important people know that includes the soldiers who succumbed to physiological or physical traumas once the fighting was finished, said Greg Fite, post commander for the American Legion.
Save the sharp snap of discharge during the traditional rifle salute, and a single trumpets mournful rendition of Taps, the day’s first ceremony was noticeably quieter than the rest, even though a hundred people lined the Kenai City Cemetery sidewalks.
Mike Meredith, past VFW post commander, partially attributes the turn out to good weather.
“The winds are not blowing and it’s not raining,” he said.
Fite addressed the crowd first.
“This day is saved with almost visible presence of those who have gone before us… whose bodies concentrate the country’s soil,” he said, drawing from a speech crafted for the American Legion.
Memorial Day is a special time for fallen soldiers, Meredith said. He and George Walters, a friend and fellow veteran, both wore bright poppies of red paper on their shirt’s front pockets, which he said is internationally recognized as a symbol of remembrance for those who have fallen.
Walters said he was pleased with the number of young people he saw that came to the Avenue of Flags. Many of the veteran’s organizations make an effort to educate students on flag etiquet, patriot pins and folding flags during trips to local classrooms every year, he said.
Unfortunately, younger generations are missing some awareness and understanding for the importance of the armed forces, Toutant said. She said that is reflected in the fight going on in the Lower 48 to ban the Pledge of Allegiance, spoken at all three events Monday, in classrooms. She said she doesn’t foresee that being an issue in local schools.
“I doubt it will happen,” Toutant said with a laugh. “Not as long as I am commander.”
Tyler Croom, 11, and Kai’sha Croom, 12, were some of the kids clued in Monday. Kai’sha Croom said she came to the Leif Hansen park all the way from Sterling that day to honor the families who have lost fathers, sisters, and brothers.
“I feel like it is a place for those people to express themselves,” she said.
Her grandmother, Helen Croom, said her grandchildren have many relatives who have served their country.
“We are Army,” she said simply.
Luckily, none ever lost their lives in combat, Helen Croom said.
“We really appreciate all thing the military has done for us, every branch,” she said. “We wouldn’t have our freedoms, freedom of religion, freedom to be able to vote, if they hadn’t.”