Memorial Day honors veterans who died serving the country. Residents from around the Kenai Peninsula gathered at the Kenai cemetery and Leif Hansen Memorial Park to pay their respects on a sunshine-filled Monday.
Paul Stevenson, Post Commander of VFW Post 10046 in Soldotna, spoke about those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect our way of life.
"They came from every corner of our nation, and even other countries," Stevenson said during his speech. "Together, they defended, protected and advanced the cause of freedom."
One of these many heroes had close ties to Kenai. Alan Robert Blohm, 21, was killed in Iraq on Dec. 31, 2006. Blohm had worked in Kenai as a commercial fisherman, and had lived with his family in Kenai before he joined the military. His aunt, Diana Zirul, attended the Avenue of Flags on Monday morning.
"We're out here in his memory," Zirul said.
Blohm was stationed at Fort Richardson in Anchorage 50 years to the date after his grandfather, for whom he was named, was stationed there, Zirul said. He was with a group of more than 50 soldiers as part of a security unit for his colonel when they were attacked by an improvised explosive device.
The sacrifice some military members make is being taught at an early age to those who will have the responsibility in the future to protect our country. Rhonda Baisden brought her two sons, James Cullen, 6, and Samuel, 5, to the Avenue of Flags. Both boys are Cub Scouts. Baisden believes it is important to teach American traditions to them early.
"I don't know if they're old enough to understand the actual sacrifice that has been made, because they haven't had to sacrifice anything yet," Baisden said.
On a family trip to Washington, D.C., Baisden said the boys were overwhelmed with the incredible amount of names on the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
"They couldn't believe all the names on the wall, they were all somebody's father or brother, so they did grasp that there were people involved," Baisden said.
Bridget Grieme, Baisden's friend and neighbor, also brought her two children, Marek, 7, and Malena, 5, and is teaching them about Memorial Day.
"We believe very strongly in our flag and learning and understanding what it means. I want our children to understand that as well," Grieme said. "I want them to have tears in their eyes when they hear 'Taps' like I do."
The children were asked what Memorial Day meant to them. James Cullen said, "We remember everyone who died and to respect the veterans that died fighting."
Memorial Day is also a day for family. Bob Harrison of Nikiski served in the Army and was at Leif Hansen Memorial Park with two of his grandchildren, Max and Nathan Davenport, both 16 of Wasilla. Harrison said it's a family tradition that his family takes turns coming to the Peninsula to attend the ceremonies and have a barbecue weekend.
"We came to spend the day with my grandparents. It just means a lot that people want to serve to protect us and to give their lives for us," Nathan Davenport said.
The service at Leif Hansen Memorial Park yielded a larger turnout, and is normally the longer of the two ceremonies.
Staff Sgt. David Quentin Douthit, who lost his life Feb. 27, 1991, in Iraq, also was honored at the Leif Hansen service. His family was presented with a personalized flag from Honor and Remember. The organization provides flags in honor of service men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, said David Caswell, the state director of Honor and Remember of Alaska.
Caswell said there have been 1.6 million military men and women who have died in the line of duty since the Revolutionary War.
"If it wasn't for these sacrifices, I wouldn't be here," Caswell said. "Although Memorial Day and Veterans Day are only two days out of the year, I remember them every day."
Joe Sawyer of Kenai is a member of the Purple Heart Organization in Soldotna. Sawyer served in Vietnam and was wounded by a mine in 1968.
"We left a lot of men behind. This is one day that I can pay respect to them and their families," Sawyer said.