As Maj. Martin Hanson drove to the Soldotna Community Memorial Park Monday for the Memorial Day Service, he thought to himself how much of an honor it was to be asked to deliver the keynote speech during the service.
“In 100 years, 100 guys will be able to say they did that,” the Iraq veteran said. “There’s never going to be a lot of people in that club, so it’s pretty cool.”
Hanson’s speech was part of the first Memorial Day service at the Soldotne cemetery. There was also the annual Avenue of Flags at the Kenai Cemetery Monday morning along with a Memorial Day Service at Leif Hansen Memorial Park.
Matt Rankin and his family attended the Avenue of Flags ceremony for the first time. Rankin along with his wife, Cassandra, brought their four kids. Rankin said Memorial Day is a day to remember what all of the service men and women gave for our country.
“Ones that have lived and died and gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom,” he said.
Colton, their 10-year-old son is in the Cub Scouts. Colton echoed his father’s thoughts.
“That we can learn that they fought for us and that they paid a price so that we can do this today,” Colton said about what Memorial Day means to him. “It’s really cool to learn that they would do it for me and the rest of us.”
Cassandra said that it’s important for kids to understand what a real hero is.
“In our culture, society gives us so many ideas of heroes, out of Hollywood and stuff, that we forget these are the real heroes,” she said.
One of those heroes is Larry Eastham, who served in the Marine Corps. from 1962-1966. Eastham attended the Soldotna Memorial Day Service and said having an event in Soldotna resonates with him.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “It’s just good to see this many people here.”
Paul Stevenson, Soldotna VFW Post 10046 post commander, explained during his address why residents should attend the Memorial Day services.
“Sacrifice really is meaningless without remembrance,” he said. “Far too often, the nation as a whole takes for granted the freedoms and liberties that all Americans enjoy.
“But we’re gathered here and we know that here, that’s why you’re here. We know that those freedoms come at a price, paid for with lives of others.”
Paul Reger, Soldotna resident since 1952 and a Vietnam veteran, said having the local service was impressive.
“I’ve lived here all of my life — except for four years, but it’s real impressive to come to a Memorial celebration here in Soldotna,” Reger, 63, said.
Reger was a Navy Seabee, who spent multiple tours in Vietnam.
“We were crushing rock and building runways and highways, paving them,” he said.
Reger said it’s important to teach kids the values of Memorial Day.
“(We) just have to teach these kids to have the same respect that everyone else does,” he said. “And they will, especially if you bring them to a function like this.”
Hanson wrapped up his speech by saying thank you to the community.
“Thank you for all the things you did for me and the other veterans that live here among you while we were deployed,” he said to the crowd. “Thank you, because you did a lot. There is no place I would have rather come home to.”