This weekend heralds the traditional beginning of summer -- a three-day break from the work week during which family and friends gather together.
However, more importantly, Memorial Day weekend also means a celebration of the lives of those who fought and died for America in every wartime engagement throughout the nation's history.
"When I was young, Memorial Day was a great day. Almost like Christmas. It was a day for honoring our comrades who passed before us and also their families and for cleaning up our cemeteries," said Earl Jones, a World War II veteran and a lifetime member of both the VFW and American Legion.
Monday, at 11 a.m., the American Legion Kenai Post 20 will begin the annual Memorial Day celebration at the Kenai Cemetery. One hundred flags will line the roadway through the graveyard as speakers pray for their fallen friends and relatives.
After the avenue of flags, the Legionnaires will move to the Leif Hansen Memorial Park in Kenai. At 1 p.m., the master of ceremonies, Herb Stettler, service officer at the American Legion, will welcome guests and fellow veterans. Following, the Skyview High School chorus will sing the national anthem.
Soldotna resident Al Hicks, commander of the Disabled American Veterans, is the guest speaker for the celebration. He served in the U.S. Armed Special Forces and has since become an ardent veterans advocate within many organizations around the state of Alaska.
"He had an awful lot to do with the support of the veterans' hospital that is supposed to be in operation in September," said Stettler. He has visited Washington, D.C., gained their support and is in contact with the state of Alaska veterans director, he said.
After Hicks' speech, the program includes a prisoner of war and missing in action prayer by Barbara Brinkerhoff, whose husband was a POW during World War I. Next, the Kenai National Guard rifle salute and "Taps," played by Tim Wisnewski, will bring a close to the day's speeches.
Afterward, there will be a laying of wreaths by veterans and other participating organizations, said Stettler. Guests are invited to bring a poppy to place in the wreath of their choice.
Stettler will then read "In Flander's Fields," a poem written by Canadian Col. John McCrae, who was in France prior to American involvement in World War I. The poem has since been dedicated to the memory of the men who died for America, said Stettler.
"Poppies have become the true symbols of those who lived and died. To wear one of those poppies means you support them," said Stettler.
At 1:30 p.m., the 19th Fighter Squadron, 3rd Air Wing from Elmendorf Air Force Base will fly by in the missing man formation. Participants will salute for a final inspection, and, after a memorial prayer and benediction, balloons will be released in honor of POWs and those missing in action, and the colors of participating organizations will be retired.
Following the celebration, the public is invited to attend open houses at three locations in Kenai and Soldotna. Guests are welcome at the American Legion Post 20 in Kenai, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10046 in Soldotna and the American Veterans Post 4 in Soldotna.
All open houses are directly after the ceremony and will bring Memorial Day to a close.
However, the American Legion's involvement in the community does not begin and end on Memorial Day. The group has 669 members in the Kenai post, an additional 130 to 140 members in the Sons of the American Legion, and 360 women involved in the American Legion Auxiliary, said Farr.
"We are an nonprofit organization, so all of our activities involve the community," said Farr.
Memorial Day is a state and federal holiday, which means all government offices and other businesses such as banks will be closed.
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