Alaska bikers gather for Memorial Day ceremony

Posted: Tuesday, May 27, 2003

BYERS LAKE (AP) Hundreds of Alaska bikers congregated at the state veterans' memorial Sunday to honor those who have served the United States military.

The 16th annual Vietnam Vets Motorcycle Club Memorial Day service brought together about 350 people in the bright afternoon sunshine at Byers Lake, located about half way between Anchorage and Fairbanks. Near the lake is the state veterans memorial, which consists of an alcove and five concrete panels inscribed with dedications representing each branch of service.

Vietnam veteran Fred ''Bulldog'' Becker was the master of ceremonies. This was his 15th year attending the ceremony. He said this year's service marked the largest gathering of motorcyclists the event has ever seen.

The ceremony began with a rumbling procession of motorcycles, mostly Harley-Davidsons, on the turnoff from the Parks Highway and continued with speakers.

''Those who have served have given us the opportunity to be here today,'' Becker told the audience. ''Men and women all around here have given us freedom.''

The ceremony was a joint effort by the club and the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Speakers at the service included state dignataries, including Lt. Gov. Loren Leman; Brig. Gen. Craig Campbell, the commissioner for the Department of Military & Veterans Affairs; and Hal R. Blair Sr., the executive assistant to the director of the Alaska VA Healthcare System and Regional Office.

''Memorial Day activities are not pep rallies, they were never meant to be,'' said Maj. Mike Haller, a veterans affairs department spokesman. ''They are solemn occasions to recall the sacrifices, really the ultimate sacrifices of all of America's warriors, and all of the wars we have taken part in since the birth of our nation.''

Carolyn Owens is an elementary teacher in Anchorage. Her husband is a member of the vets motorcycle club.

''I found the whole thing very moving,'' Owens said. ''It made me think about things I don't think about that often, the freedoms we enjoy, the people who sacrificed.''

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