Cecilia and Keltner Farris married twice, once in Vietnam where the two served in the Army and again in New York six months later.
“From the minute I saw her, I knew she was the one,” Keltner Farris said. “I said, ‘I am going to marry you,’ and she politely replied, ‘No way.’”
The two sat near the front row of a Veterans Day celebration on Wednesday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex where nearly 100 people gathered to pay tribute to the area residents who served the country.
The Farris’ unique nuptial story — the paperwork from the couple’s first marriage was destroyed while they were overseas, so they wed again once back in the states — is different from the narrative often told about veterans. Sgt. First Class David Strong with the Alaska Recruiting Station for the U.S. Army in Soldotna said those differences highlight a divide between veterans and civilians.
“There’s somewhat of a social disconnect between America’s veterans and everybody else that… people don’t really understand,” Strong said. “The majority of the country really has no idea what we do other than what they see on the news. They think it’s all, for a lack of better words, kicking doors and shooting people in the face, and there’s much more to it than that. So when people come out to something like this that aren’t veterans, you know, they have that opportunity to connect with veterans and see that there’s much more than just what the T.V. shows or what the movies show.”
In addition to paying tribute to the peninsula’s veterans, Strong acknowledged those who have still not been found or accounted for, as well as the non-veterans in the community who came out to show their support.
Later in the day, students at Nikiski North Star Elementary School put on their first ever Veterans Day assembly. Nikiski veterans were invited to the gymnasium where the students sang, performed a reading theater play, learned about what it means to be a veteran and got a chance to thank them.
Organized by Margaret Gilman, the school’s principal, the assembly featured a presentation by one of its own staff members, Matt Boyle, a veteran from the Coast Guard who worked in Juneau and Kodiak during his service. Gilman, who is in her third year as the school’s principal, said she has been thinking of instituting a Veterans Day program since she first took the position. The teachers jumped on board when she made the suggestion, she said.
“I wanted to do it so our children had an opportunity to honor the veterans,” Gilman said.
Wayne Ogle, a former Coast Guard captain and Nikiski’s representative on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, helped with a short demonstration and said he was honored to attend.
“I told (Gilman) that I really think it’s fabulous that the elementary school would take the time and effort,” Ogle said. “I’m just very tickled that North Star Elementary School has gone this direction… I think the kids learned a lot about what the service is and giving of one’s time.”
Ogle also emphasized the importance of recognizing military families.
“You’ve got military members that are deployed around the world. They’re on ships or stationed places, and the families are left behind and life has to go on for the family,” he said. “And it’s tough when the military member comes back… and they have to fit back into the family and it’s really tough to do that.”