Although traditionally a day set aside to thank veterans for their service, this Veterans Day one individual gave them something more — a mission.
A program Wednesday at Centennial Hall hosted by Post 25 Auke Bay American Legion featured speaker and chaplain Maj. Kirk Thorsteinson. During his address to the room of nearly 200 guests, he told stories of heroes who served while away from home, but he reminded the crowd that veterans today in Juneau are not done serving.
“Our nation celebrates us today for our service,” Thorsteinson said. “May they also celebrate us for what we continue to offer to those around us for the rest of our lives.”
Thorsteinson explained that while serving, men and women from different backgrounds from across the nation unite to fight for a singular cause. Their ability to come together in the face of diversities gives them the tools they need to lead others to similar success, he said.
Substance abuse, suicide and homelessness in the community were a few areas Thorsteinson said are often conflict-ridden because of politics or religion.
“I encourage all of us to look to our shared experience as veterans and our shared values which allow us to rise above our differences and join together to work with people we disagree with, people we may not like, in order to take care of veterans and the citizens of Juneau,” Thorsteinson said.
The audience, including members of the Alaska Legislature such as Sen. Dennis Egan and Rep. Cathy Muñoz, both of Juneau, also had those from other countries with shared appreciation for this country’s service men and women.
Benthe Mertl and her husband Chris stood in the back of the room as the U.S. Color Guard presented colors and as Sara Radke sang the Star Spangled Banner. Benthe was born in the Netherlands and her husband is from Canada, and neither is a veteran. But the day still holds strong importance for the couple and their four children.
“My parents were born in the Second World War in the Netherlands,” Benthe said. “These people may have liberated my parents. It’s an extremely important event for my kids as well; they need to learn that there are people who fight for us. I wouldn’t be here, they wouldn’t be here, if it wasn’t for those people fighting for us.”
Chris Mertl showed his Canadian side, wearing a bright poppy pinned to his jacket in honor of what is known as Remembrance Day in his country. He said although not everyone will agree on or support a war, everyone should support the troops.
American Legion Post 25 Commander Dick Hand said he was happy with additions to this year’s Veterans Day celebration at Centennial Hall, specifically the addition of the Capital Brass band and vocals by Radke. But he said 200 guests isn’t a large number considering Juneau’s population of about 32,000.
“Most people probably don’t know what this day’s observation is about,” Hand said. “But we’re here because we remember, and we believe in it.”
Declining participation on the civilian and the veterans’ side is a subject Thorsteinson spoke to after his address. A veteran himself, he admitted he has only attended city-wide veteran events a handful of times in years past. Now he’s calling on the younger generation to come forward as older veterans are lost and the need to care for the community continues.
“On Veterans Day, people often think of the heroic veteran who comes back and has all their limbs,” Thorsteinson said. “Really, some of our veterans are in the prison, some of our veterans are in the hospitals, some of our veterans are homeless.”
For interested veterans, monthly meetings for the American Legion Auke Bay Post 25 take place the second Tuesday of the month, and monthly meetings for Veterans of Foreign Wars takes place the second Wednesday of each month.