Editor’s note: This article has been changed to correct the position of Military Order of the Purple Heart member Ron Siebels. A former State and National Commander of the organization, Siebles is not a current commander. The Clarion regrets the error.
A memorial installed approximately a year ago in Soldotna Creek Park was officially dedicated Saturday. The Kenai Peninsula’s Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 830 held a formal ceremony in the park for its Purple Heart monument, which commemorates United States soldiers wounded in combat.
Joe Sawyer, a Purple Heart Chapter 830 member and an Army veteran wounded during the Vietnam War, officiated as the group’s acting chaplain. He credited Military Order of the Purple Heart Regional Commander Preston “Nick” Nelson with generating the initiative and raising the funds to create the monument.
Nelson said that the monument, carved from a block of red Italian marble, is the second Purple Heart monument in Alaska. He was inspired to create it after seeing the first.
“I saw one in Anchorage a few years ago, and I thought: ‘god, I’d like to have one of those,’” Nelson said during a later interview.
Nelson researched the monument and discovered it had been created by a company in Vermont. He said he began advocating for it during state Sen. Peter Micciche’s term as mayor of Soldotna between 2008 and 2013. Nelson said the monument, which he estimated to cost $8,000, was funded by donations to Purple Heart Chapter 830 from Kenai Peninsula Borough residents and from the Alaska Department of Military and Veteran Affairs.
“I never wrote a letter out for donations or anything,” he said. “Just talking to people.”
Some of the monument’s transportation from Vermont was also donated. Nelson said that after the stone was shipped to Washington, the Denali Group moving company transported it to Anchorage and Weaver Brothers Trucking transported it to Soldotna free of charge.
Although Nelson said the monument was installed in May 2014, Purple Heart Chapter 830 delayed the dedication until he could be present at the ceremony. Nelson said that the traveling required by his position as a Purple Heart regional commander made it difficult for him to schedule time for the ceremony.
State Purple Heart Commander Ron Siebels came from Anchorage to attend Saturday’s ceremony.
Siebles, who said he has been to Purple Heart memorial dedications throughout the country, was pleased with the number of people at Soldotna’s ceremony.
“We had a better turnout here, population-wise, than some major cities,” Siebles said. “I think it was patriotism. Patriotism, to me, is more embedded in smaller communities than in large communities, because you get such a diversification of citizens in major cities that you don’t see in a place like this.”
Sawyer said that the monument is meant to be a way of speaking to future generations.
“We got it for the city so the veterans can view it with their family… and help explain to their families what this is,” Sawyer said. “A lot of kids don’t understand that. You can tell them over and over, and then they can come see something like this.”
Reach Ben Boettger at email@example.com.