Hundreds of Juneau veterans, family members and supporters gathered at Memorial Day ceremonies in observance of the duty and sacrifice made by generations of area residents in collective and individual ways.
A morning gathering in pouring rain at Alaskan Memorial Park saw dozens stand steadfast for a memorial service. More than 400 American flags were scattered across the park, placed by Boy Scout Troop No. 6, along with individually placed flowers that brought sparks of color against the cloudy sky above.
The keynote speaker of the observance, Commander Rear Adm. Nathan A. Moore, expressed his gratitude to the crowd for coming out despite the less-than-ideal weather conditions.
“You can definitely tell this is a Juneau event because of the number of people that have shown up today and are willing to stand in the rain to honor our veterans and honor what Memorial Day is,” he said. “It’s certainly an act of patriotism.”
Jensen said it’s important to honor those who have died in the service, and gave the “ultimate sacrifice” for the freedom of Americans today and in the future. He said honoring those who gave the “ultimate sacrifice” must be continued to set an example for future generations and he encouraged people to spread their patriotism to others.
He thanked the group for commemorating the day.
“From the bottom of my heart I want to thank you all for coming — you are what really makes the nation strong,” he said, “Those of us in uniform recognize that what we do doesn’t matter if we don’t have those back to take care of families and support us.”
At the same time about 60 veterans, family members and other supporters gathered downtown at Evergreen Cemetery for a commemoration by Veterans of Foreign Wars Taku Post 5559. Small flags prominent there were placed at the graves of veterans by an anonymous family that performs the service every year.
For the opening invocation Kirk Thorsteinson, the VFW post’s chaplain, began by reading the war poem “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian physician Lt. Col. John McCrae.
“Please continue to raise up a generation of warriors who will honor you as teacher and rightful judge, and who will sacrificially catch and carry the torch high as long as Americans foes choose to quarrel,” Thorsteinson continued. “A generation such as Lt. Col. John McCrae’s, who himself said ‘I am really rather afraid, but more afraid to stay at home with my conscience.’”
The poem was also referenced by Capt. Darwin Jensen, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Juneau, during a speech to those gathered as he observed it “helps to kind of give a good idea of what that sacrifice means.”
“The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here,” Jensen said. “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”
The gathering at Evergreen Cemetery was followed shortly afterward by a Memorial Day observance by Southeast Alaska Native Veterans at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. While many portions of the ceremony were similar to the other gatherings, such as an invocation and a wreath laying, there was also an opening reading and then closing singing of 13 Southeast Alaska residents killed in the line of duty.
In addition, Ray Wilson, who laid a wreath at the base of the stage as an Army veteran who served during the Korean War, also presented a Warriors Circle of Honor Blanket he received last year from Smithsonian Institution members as a tribute on his 90th birthday.
The keynote speech to those in the hall also was filled with similar yet different elements to gatherings earlier during the day. Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson, president of Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, opened with a remembrance of other family members who have served for generations, and how they and other tribal members face struggles in addition to “the most difficult and dangerous” of wartime situations.
“As Alaskan Native veterans you face unique obstacles and discrimination both in and out of uniform,” he said. “Yet you have persevered, and your commitment to our country and your fellow soldiers has always been unwavering.”
Much as speakers at other events expressed hopes of future peace instead of combat among nations, and bringing peace to veterans who are battling within themselves, Peterson said his tribe is engaging in widespread efforts to help heal the “physical and emotional scars of war” among Alaska Natives.
“Let us strive to build a more just and inclusive society, where all those who have served are honored and respected,” he said.