Annual Veterans Day event honors service members

'Serving selflessly'

Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche read the proclamation of the Purple Heart, adding the city would pass a resolution supporting the proclamation at its Nov. 28 council meeting.

The mayor presented the proclamation to veteran Nick Nelson, commander of the state’s Military Order of the Purple Heart. Nelson struggled for words, as the city’s adoption of the resolution caught him off guard.

“Thank you. Just … thank you,” Nelson said as he accepted the proclamation. “We are a Purple Heart city.”

The central Kenai Peninsula’s veterans and their families gathered Sunday at the Soldotna Sports Center for the annual Veterans Day event. About 200 residents attended the event, which included multiple speakers and acts of gratitude professed toward local service members.

Marty Hall began the Sunday morning event — following the Pledge of Allegiance — with an invocation. He argued for the continued support of the United States military chaplains, who are clergy members attached to different branches of the armed forces.

Hall lamented the county’s trend toward removing chaplains from the military. He argued it’s no longer in vogue or even correct to seek God in times of military service. More chaplains are needed, he said.

“The psychiatrists and doctors cannot answer the ‘why’ questions that these servicemen have in their hearts,” Hall said. “Folks, we still have soldiers in the field, and for some reason the public seems to have forgotten that.”

Hall then read Psalm 44 from the Bible and closed with the following statement: “I pray for those coming back wounded. So many are coming back wounded physically, emotionally and oh so spiritually.”

Despite Hill’s somber tone, the event’s guest speaker and the state’s deputy command chaplain, Lt. Col. Kenneth J. Hancock, approached the podium with a smile. He said he’d like to focus on two main points, or questions. First, who are the American veterans? Second, why do we honor them?

Hancock described a nostalgic scene of an elderly gentleman walking through a cemetery, searching for a lone headstone. The uniformed man’s family trailed quietly behind. They stood in muted reverence when the man discovered the stone.

This is the opening scene from “Saving Private Ryan,” Hancock admitted. And while it accurately portrays many veterans, it’s important to peer deeper, he said. The nostalgic image of the veteran is easy to depict, but former service members permeate communities. They serve us food; treat our ailments when we’re sick. The common vet is elusive, he said.

“The most fitting definition — those who serve selflessly,” Hancock said.

“If you’re sitting by a veteran this morning, you’re sitting by a special, special, special person,” he said.

Family members caressed the backs of uniformed men following the aforementioned proclamation.

Hancock invited former and active service members in the audience to stand. More than one-third of those in the room rose to their feet. He then asked the family members of military personnel to do the same. Half the room stood facing the speaker while the remaining attendants applauded.

During the beginning of the event, host Jim Pound read Veterans Day statements from Alaska politicians. The first statement came from the office of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, in which she noted the prevalence of service members throughout the state.

Less than 1 percent of the U.S. population will serve in the military. But in Alaska, veterans make up 10 percent of the population.

“Less than 1 percent have given even a day of service while a select few give a great portion or all of their lives, and thanks to that fraction of soldiers, the other 99 percent is able to go on about their lives,” Hancock said.

Steve Wright attended Sunday’s event and stood when asked, as he was drafted in July 1969. He served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne division as an artillery forward observer.

He also helped organize Friday’s Veterans Day event at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School.

Wright said he agreed with Hancock’s conclusion about the importance of saying thank you to veterans. A salute to the flag or taking a moment to personally thank a service member would be enough, he said.

To the soldiers currently fighting overseas, he said, “Come home safe.”

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com.

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