On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, about 150 people gathered at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex Saturday to pay tribute to American veterans.
The observance of Veterans Day goes back to Nov. 11, 1918 when an armistice between Germany and the Allied nations went into effect. The 99-year-old tradition continued Saturday in Soldotna with veterans, family and friends of veterans together for a ceremony organized by the Soldotna Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10046.
Dave Carey, VFW Auxiliary Gaming Officer, said Veterans Day is important to him because it’s a time to remember the sacrifices given within his family. His father was killed while on active duty as a Navy pilot in 1956, and his brother is a permanently disabled Vietnam War veteran.
“We want to make sure every veteran knows they are never forgotten,” he said. “We would not have this country without the willingness and commitment of all veterans.”
The ceremony started with the posting of the colors. As the flags from each branch of the U.S. Military were brought into the conference room, the audience stood and saluted the U.S. flag before the silence was broken for the Pledge of Allegiance and signing of the national anthem.
Sen. Peter Micciche, who flew in early Saturday from Juneau from a special legislative session, read a proclamation from Alaska Gov. Bill Walker that recognized veterans and their family for their service.
Guest speaker Marty Hanson, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and Alaska National Guard, spoke about how the memories of service felt like yesterday.
“As veterans, we all remember that call to duty to serve,” he said. “We all in one way or another did what was asked of us. When we find ourselves in the company of our fellow veterans, there’s an instant bond of friendship, a trust that normally takes a lifetime to build.”
Soldotna resident and VFW member Herb Stettler recited Lt. Col. John McCrae’s poem, “In Flanders Fields,” while members of the audience placed poppies on a symbolic gravestone. On the other side of the room, a round table with a white tablecloth sat empty as a symbol of Prisoners of War. The ceremony concluded with a 21-gun salute, playing of taps and a closing benediction.
Among those in attendance was 95-year-old Melvin “Mike” Logan of Soldotna, an Army Veteran who fought in World War II. Logan, a First Sergeant, was in Germany during the liberation of concentration camps, said Logan’s daughter, Sandra Sterling.
Sterling said her love of America came from her father, who valued his patriotic duty to serve.
The VFW has been raising funds for an “Iron Mike” five-foot tall bronze statue for Soldotna Creek Park. Currently, the organization has raised more than $28,000, or 58 percent of their $48,000 goal. Carey said if every adult on the peninsula donated $2, it would more than cover the project cost.
Carey said Stettler, who was born the same year as his father, approached him about the idea of the “Iron Mike” statue, which represents a soldier in full military gear. Getting the statue placed the park is a way to honor his father’s memory, Carey said.
“Our community has been so supportive of our veterans,” he said. “I believe this (statue) will be a major tourist attraction as well as a way to honor all veterans.”
American Legion Post 20 commander Greg Fite said continued support of veterans is vital and cited that 22 veterans commit suicide every day.
“As a nation we should continue to serve our veterans as well as they have served us,” he said. “We need to remember that war is not a mere history lesson. To them the battles continue even after the firing stops. … Veterans put us first so today we put veterans first.”