Wreath bearers present wreaths for fallen comrades, brothers and sisters in arms during a Memorial Day ceremony at Alaskan Memorial Park on Monday. Laying wreaths on the graves of fallen heroes is a way to honor and remember the sacrifices made. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Wreath bearers present wreaths for fallen comrades, brothers and sisters in arms during a Memorial Day ceremony at Alaskan Memorial Park on Monday. Laying wreaths on the graves of fallen heroes is a way to honor and remember the sacrifices made. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Traditional Memorial Day ceremonies offer new ways to ‘never forget’ those who served

New installations at memorial sites, fresh words of reminder shared by hundreds gathering in Juneau.

Ray Wilson, 91, a Korea War veteran, has laid more wreaths on Memorial Day than he can remember, while a few blocks away U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Brierley Ostrander delivered her first ceremonial speech ever for the holiday. But they and hundreds of other veterans, current service members, family and others all shared a common message and purpose during the day.

Annual gatherings Monday at locations around Juneau followed their traditional tributes, prayers and socializing, with the timeless messages of “never forget” mixed with new developments such as additions to memorial sites to reinforce that motto.

Ray Wilson (right), a Korea War veteran who served in the U.S. Army, helps place a wreath at the Southeast Alaska Native Veterans Memorial Park during a Memorial Day ceremony on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Ray Wilson (right), a Korea War veteran who served in the U.S. Army, helps place a wreath at the Southeast Alaska Native Veterans Memorial Park during a Memorial Day ceremony on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

For Wilson, it was placing a wreath this year at midday at the Southeast Alaska Native Veterans Memorial Park downtown, where restoration work is underway and two new totem poles are scheduled to be placed by next year. He said he has participated in similar ceremonies at other sites in Juneau, at least one of which was destroyed, so the revived memorial on Warrior Street is a fitting way to honor “the way of the Tlingit warrior.”

“Every last man fought to the death,” he said, referring to historical accounts of battles that state few were captured alive.

Richard Peterson, president of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, said during opening remarks at the ceremony the visible signs of construction work surrounding the memorial are a tribute in themselves to the people for whom the site exists.

“We want to show here in the capital city, Tlingit and Haida, and our people how much we revere not only our veterans, but for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. “And it really makes my heart feel good to see so many turnout today as we remember those who did give that ultimate sacrifice for all of us.”

Bob Ridley, a U.S. Navy veteran, sings the national anthem during a Memorial Day ceremony at midday Monday at the Southeast Alaska Native Veterans Memorial Park next to Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Bob Ridley, a U.S. Navy veteran, sings the national anthem during a Memorial Day ceremony at midday Monday at the Southeast Alaska Native Veterans Memorial Park next to Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The names of 13 Southeast Alaska veterans killed in the line of duty were read during the ceremony in one of the occasion’s annual traditions. After the outdoor event, those gathered moved inside Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall for more tribute speeches, a traditional lunch of pulled pork sandwiches and a performance by the Yaaw Tei Yi Dancers.

As usual, local Memorial Day events began with two ceremonies at cemeteries that started at 11 a.m.

American Legion Auke Bay Post #25 held a Memorial Day service at Alaskan Memorial Park to remember those who died while actively serving in the military. A total of 412 headstones were marked by volunteers with the American flag in commemoration. The flags decorating headstones were placed Thursday and will remain until June 4. Local Girl Scout Jenna Dobson helped decorate headstones for her Gold Award, the most prestigious award in Girl Scouting.

Thunder Mountain High School graduate and National Honor Society Scholarship Award winner Elizabeth Djajalie sings the national anthem during a Memorial Day ceremony at Alaskan Memorial Park on Monday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School graduate and National Honor Society Scholarship Award winner Elizabeth Djajalie sings the national anthem during a Memorial Day ceremony at Alaskan Memorial Park on Monday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

The Alaska State Flag, American flag and POW/MIA flag blew in the wind at half-mast as community members gathered in remembrance.

After the posting of colors, community members recited the Pledge of Allegiance before listening to “The Star Spangled Banner” sung by Elizabeth Djajalie.

“Comrades and citizens of Juneau, we celebrate 249 years of American military service this year with the creation of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps in 1775,” Duff Mitchell, Post #25 Auke Bay commander said. “We solemnly celebrate today to remember those who have fallen and direct service to our country, and those who have served and have now passed.”

U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Megan Dean delivers the keynote speech during a Memorial Day ceremony at Alaskan Memorial Park on Monday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Megan Dean delivers the keynote speech during a Memorial Day ceremony at Alaskan Memorial Park on Monday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Megan Dean, District 17 Commander, was the keynote speaker. She recognized fallen members of the U.S. Coast Guard: Signalman Third Class Douglas Munro, the only member of the United States Coast Guard to receive the Medal of Honor, Damage Controlman Third Class Nathan Bruckenthal, and Senior Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne. Horne was also a U.S. Army Veteran. In commission, Coast Guard cutters are named in honor of each of these fallen members.

“As we commemorate this Memorial Day, let us remember that the freedom we enjoy is not free — it has been paid for by the valor and sacrifice of our servicemen and women,” Dean said. “Let us honor them not just with our words today, but with our actions every day.”

The Rev. Aaron Spratt, a U.S. Navy veteran, closed the service with a benediction.

“We give thanks for all who have served our nation in the armed forces, and for the families that have loved them, missed their presence, prayed for their deployed loved ones, and rejoiced in their return,” he said. “We pray especially for those families whose loved ones did not return from the battlefields of land, air, and sea, giving their lives in defense of freedom and sacrificial love for neighbor. May we never forget the sacrifices that they have made for us.”

A new bench was installed and a memorial was held with Tim Armstrong’s family on Thursday at Alaskan Memorial Park to recognize his service. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

A new bench was installed and a memorial was held with Tim Armstrong’s family on Thursday at Alaskan Memorial Park to recognize his service. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Tom Dawson, past commander of the American Legion and senior vice commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars said a new memorial bench was installed Thursday to remember Tim Armstrong who passed away in September 2023.

“He’s a Purple Heart recipient,” Dawson said. “He’s a past commander of the American Legion and the VFW. He was our service officer there that did a lot of help to a lot of veterans and their families here in Juneau. So we’re gonna miss that man.”

After the Mendenhall Valley Memorial Day service, the community was invited to enjoy grilled burgers and hot dogs at the American Legion Post #25 Open House. The VFW 5559 cosponsors the event.

About 60 people gathered at Evergreen Cemetery downtown for a commemoration by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Taku Post 5559. Three wreaths were placed on behalf of veterans’ groups at the base of a flagpole — a new one for the longstanding tradition. Emcee Dan McCrummen, a Coast Guard veteran and quartermaster of the local VFW post, offered a tribute to two local VFW members who recently died: Tim Armstrong, a Purple Heart recipient, and Dave Koko, who was twice presented with the medal and died a week ago.

Lai Hinckle (right) and Keith Wertheimer place a wreath from the Juneau Elks Lodge 420 at the base of the flagpole at Evergreen Cemetery during a Memorial Day ceremony Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Lai Hinckle (right) and Keith Wertheimer place a wreath from the Juneau Elks Lodge 420 at the base of the flagpole at Evergreen Cemetery during a Memorial Day ceremony Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Ostrander, as the featured speaker, said she was planning to observe the holiday’s tradition of relaxing with family and “maybe benefiting from my husband’s skills at the grill” before being asked to speak. She said while such leisure activities are a worthy way to spend at least part of the day, “but even as I appreciate the easy joy of our modern Memorial Day traditions, I do think something has been lost.”

“Over the course of 156 years we’ve been marking this day, those flowers during picnics in cemeteries in the late 1800s had festive elements too, but they were also very much a time for remembering sacrifices,” she said. “In the Civil War more than 2% of Americans died. Wars since then have called for deep sacrifices from fewer and fewer American families, which we can and should be grateful for. But because fewer families now have had the experience of replacing a blue star with a gold one there’s perhaps a less widely shared appreciation of loss and of the purpose of this loss.”

Veterans, families and others salute the entrance of a color guard during a Memorial Day ceremony at Evergreen Cemetery on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Veterans, families and others salute the entrance of a color guard during a Memorial Day ceremony at Evergreen Cemetery on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Ostrander suggested people who’ve served and/or lost others who have should “consider sharing a story of military sacrifice with somebody in this community you think might not have thought about that element of our history for a while.” She suggested locations such as the USS Juneau Memorial along the downtown cruise ship dock, in remembrance of the namesake ship’s sinking when it was hit by a torpedo on Nov. 13, 1942, with all but 10 of the 697-person crew killed.

“Say something genuine to someone about your own personal understanding of why that crew’s sacrifice matters to you,” she said.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306. Contact Jasz Garrett at jasz.garrett@juneauempire.com or (907) 723-9356.

The Yaaw Tei Yi Dancers perform during a Southeast Alaska Native Veterans Memorial Day gathering at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The Yaaw Tei Yi Dancers perform during a Southeast Alaska Native Veterans Memorial Day gathering at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A color guard of Southeast Alaska Native Veterans carries flags to the Southeast Alaska Native Veterans Memorial Park during a Memorial Day ceremony on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A color guard of Southeast Alaska Native Veterans carries flags to the Southeast Alaska Native Veterans Memorial Park during a Memorial Day ceremony on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Brierley Ostrander delivers a Memorial Day speech to veterans, families and others during a ceremony Monday at Evergreen Cemetery. Listening at her left is Dan McCrummen, a Coast Guard veteran and quartermaster of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Taku Post 5559, who served as emcee of the ceremony. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Brierley Ostrander delivers a Memorial Day speech to veterans, families and others during a ceremony Monday at Evergreen Cemetery. Listening at her left is Dan McCrummen, a Coast Guard veteran and quartermaster of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Taku Post 5559, who served as emcee of the ceremony. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Duff Mitchell, commander of American Legion Auke Bay Post #25, addresses those gathered at a Memorial Day ceremony at Alaskan Memorial Park on Monday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Duff Mitchell, commander of American Legion Auke Bay Post #25, addresses those gathered at a Memorial Day ceremony at Alaskan Memorial Park on Monday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Sgt. Jeremiah Helms, Sgt. Wesson Lotz, Airman Vincent Hayes and Airman Bailey Israelson of the Southeast Civil Air Patrol present the color guard during a Memorial Day ceremony at Alaskan Memorial Park on Monday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Sgt. Jeremiah Helms, Sgt. Wesson Lotz, Airman Vincent Hayes and Airman Bailey Israelson of the Southeast Civil Air Patrol present the color guard during a Memorial Day ceremony at Alaskan Memorial Park on Monday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Flags decorating headstones were placed Thursday and will remain at the Alaskan Memorial Park until June 4. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Flags decorating headstones were placed Thursday and will remain at the Alaskan Memorial Park until June 4. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

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