In the annals of U.S. military history, Aug. 17 has quite a few listings — among them, in 1812 the U.S. Frigate President captured British schooner L’Adeline and in 1943 Patton’s Army won the famed Race to Messina.
It’s also the anniversary of World War II veterans Don and Goldie Johnson’s marriage. The Nikiski couple married while serving in the U.S. Army in Europe during the war. Saturday, their anniversary was the basis for the dedication ceremony of the Nikiski Veterans Memorial.
Along with the celebration of the Goldie’s decades in matrimonial partnership, the new memorial, situated on the lawn between North Kenai Chapel and the McGahan Community Cemetery at Mile 29 on the Kenai Spur Highway, was used to honor the fallen along with a 21-gun salute and the bugling of taps.
Among the fallen honored in proper style was the second guest of honor for the day Helmer Kiser, the former pastor of the church from 1976 to 1986, who recently passed away. Current Pastor Wayne Coggins said that Keiser was suffering from a myriad of cancers brought about by his work on a cargo plane carying Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
“He was going to try be here but he didn’t quite make it,” Coggins said before the ceremony began.
Under the steady rain, about 55 community members watched as members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10046 and American Legion Post 20 raised the colors and the POW/MIA flag. For the missing, such as Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson’s Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl held as a prisoner of war since 2009, “Amazing Grace” was played.
Back inside the chapel out of the rain thoughtful speeches were made.
State Senator Cathy Giessel spoke emotionally about the loss of Marine Cpl. Grant Fraser, a staffer’s son, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq on Aug. 3, 2008. She remembered her father and father-in-law’s service in World War II. She showed deep respect for the leadership and patriotism shown by Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Lt. Col. Daniel Sullivan, who just deployed for a six-week special mission to Afghanistan and talked about the family commitment of State Senator Charlie Huggins a former Army Ranger whose two sons have followed in his Ranger boots.
Recently retired U.S. Army Cpt. Ben Carpenter spoke about the changing nature overt military allegiances in small towns as the dual wars come to a close. After recently leaving the Army in Texas he said the drive back home to Nikiski left him understanding that the country has, to a degree, moved on. There are not as many signs in the stores offering discounts to military families, there are less unite patches and fewer if any of the classic military high and tight hair cuts on men’s heads in the community, he said.
“It’s an indication that life goes on in small towns,” Carpenter said. “The sacrifice gives us the freedom to live as we choose.”
His primary note of the day reflected on the significant fact of recent veterans as compared to those of the wars in Vietnam, Korea and World War II. Forty years ago, as the draft ended, the U.S. moved to an all-volunteer force — a force second to none in the history of the world. Yet today, less than one percent of the nation has chosen to serve in the Middle Eastern wars of the last 23 years. Staying true to belief, he said, our strong military is necessary to secure our liberty.
This community chose to honor the veterans and do what’s right day in day out.
“I can’t speak for all the veterans, but thank you,” Carpenter said.
Reach Greg Skinner at firstname.lastname@example.org