Vietnam veteran and Veterans of Foreign Wars member Al Helminski, of Soldotna, places a poppy on wreaths set up for the Memorial Day ceremony Monday in Leif Hansen Memorial Park in Kenai while his son, Ryan, waits. Veterans, their families and other attendees were asked to place poppies on the wreaths during the ceremony to remember U.S. military personnel who died while serving.
Photo by John Hult
With the wind blowing dozens of U.S. flags on the Monday marking the end to the three-day Memorial Day weekend, area residents took time to honor military personnel in Leif Hansen Memorial Park with cheers, prayers and song.
The early afternoon ceremony, sponsored by area veterans groups, drew a large crowd of veterans, their families and community members for remarks on military service and remembrance from Kenai Police Chief Chuck Kopp, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Navy Spc. Bryan Stocks, among other guests.
Kopp spoke on the contributions made by veterans, noting that 2006 marks the “fifth Memorial Day with the U.S. at war.”
“Many families here today are thinking of a face and a voice they are missing very much,” he said.
Kopp said troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are working to usher in a new era of peace and democracy in the Middle East, quoting British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s speech on the matter last week in Washington, D.C., to drive home the point.
“The hope of freedom is America’s cause,” he said.
Kopp thanked the crowd for attending the ceremony, and urged them to “take a moment to think about those who fight, those who fought and those who died.”
Murkowski started her remarks by pointing out that Memorial Day is the traditional beginning of summer, and Alaskans are now ready to catch salmon and halibut, go hiking or otherwise enjoy the warmest months in the Last Frontier.
For members of the U.S. military, however, she said, “Today is just another day at the office.”
Murkowski mentioned opposition to the war, and pointed out that troops overseas are working to secure the right to dissent for others around the world.
“It is patriotic to engage in this kind of debate,” she said. “Often times we fight so people can have the freedom to express their views.”
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski listens as U.S. Navy Spc. Bryan Stocks, who served in Iraq, addresses the crowd at the Memorial Day ceremony at Leif Hansen Memorial Park in Kenai.
Photo by John Hult
Stocks was the last guest speaker to address the attendees. He said Iraqis are excited for the opportunity to express themselves. Stocks, who served in Iraq during both major elections, said the people there have changed their attitudes toward expressing their viewpoints since 2003.
“When we first got there, they were so scared of the insurgents and the terrorists, they wouldn’t look you in the eyes, they’d stare at their feet, they didn’t want you to think that you were helping them. They were afraid.”
Stocks said things were different during the second election.
“These guys were storming us, mobbing us trying to unload,” he said. “These guys were walking through 300 yards of barb wire just to vote.”
Stocks also thanked the crowd for attending and for their support of the troops overseas.
“Those letters, they’re great. They’re the best thing since video games,” he said.
Following Stocks’ remarks, ceremony attendees were invited to place poppies on wreaths set up in remembrance of soldiers who had died during service or were missing in action.
People lined up to place poppies at the wreaths while members of the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and AmVets read poems.
The poppy placement stopped for a few minutes during the rifle salute, the retiring of colors and the benediction, but continued for several minutes after the ceremony’s conclusion.
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