Memorial Day takes on new significance after Sept. 11 attacks

Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Memorial Day is more than a three-day weekend that heralds the beginning of summer for those Kenai Peninsula residents who turned out in force Monday to honor the men and women of the armed forces who paid the price of freedom with their lives.

The ceremony, held at Leif Hansen Memorial Park in Kenai, may have seemed much like past Memorial day observances, but Monday's speeches were filled with allusions to the United States' current war on terrorism.

As men and women carry out Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, civilians and veterans alike did not forget their fellow citizens overseas.

In his keynote speech, Kenai Police Lt. Chuck Kopp mentioned the renewed sense of patriotism and remembrance that Monday held above Memorial Days of the recent past. The lifelong Alaska resident and Cook Inlet Academy alumnus said it was appropriate not only to remember those who have died in past wars, but also to keep in mind those who have perished in the war on terrorism.

As a member of the Kenai Police Department for 13 years, Kopp also reminded the audience of others in uniform -- the 60 police officers and 343 firefighters -- who gave their lives Sept. 11. He said they would not see themselves as heroes but only as willing servants and protectors of communities.

These men and women, along with members of the armed forces, are who Kopp said he points to as role models for today's youth. These sentiments met with a round of applause from the audience as did his closing words in which he asked God to bless those fighting overseas, the audience and America.

Those in attendance had the opportunity to personally pay respects to lost loved ones after the ceremonial laying of the wreaths by representatives from peninsula veterans' organizations. Dozens of spectators lined up to place a poppy on the wreaths. In doing so they paid homage to the beginnings of Memorial Day when it was referred to as Decoration Day and Civil War casualties were those honored.


Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts stand in attention during the Memorial Day ceremony held Monday at Leif Hansen Memorial Park in Kenai.

Photo by Carly Bossert

Since 1866, when the first Memorial Day was observed in Waterloo, N. Y., each community across the country has found ways to make the holiday meaningful to its residents. The national tradition of Memorial Day was kept alive on the peninsula by the annual fly by from Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage. In addition, peninsula resident Amber Hall read her essay entitled "Is freedom really free?", which placed her ninth in the national Veterans of Foreign Wars competition.

Thus, while the civilian victims of Sept. 11 were honored, the original meaning of Memorial Day was not forgotten in Monday's ceremony. It was, as the commander of VFW Post No. 10046, Harry Dotson said in his address, a melding of the two causes because "we are all in this together."

While Sept. 11 bought new meaning to the Memorial Day proceedings, it also emphasized the purpose behind the holiday.

"I think everybody had at least a little sense of that. It was a little bigger than last year at least," said Kenai city council member Jim Bookey, who participates in the ceremony every year with his wife Phyllis.

Another regular spectator, Barbara Heath, comes in honor of her deceased husband, a World War II veteran. Heath, whose two sons, grandson and brother-in-law also have all served in the armed forces, attended the ceremony not because of the events of Sept. 11 but for her husband, she said.

Heath and others who took time to honor those who died protecting America's freedom would probably agree with the fifth century B.C. Athenian statesman Pericles, who said, "Freedom is the possession of those who have the courage to defend it."

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