Military service is a lifestyle few experience, Soldotna's Charles Carrico said Monday.
"You see different things, live a different lifestyle," he said. "It's a whole new world."
While it's a world several central Kenai Peninsula residents have seen, it's freshest in Carrico's mind. The 1997 Soldotna High School graduate spent about a year serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq, returning just a month ago.
"You meet people from all around the United States," he said. "And when you go to a war zone with them, they're your family. They're the ones by your side, making sure you're safe. ... You learn to trust each other more than family."
When those surrogate family members fall, he said, "The memory is strong. They were your support."
A tall man with the confident posture inherent in a soldier, Carrico bowed his head to honor that memory Monday, standing before a crowd of hundreds of people who turned out for the annual Memorial Day ceremony in Leif Hansen Memorial Park in Kenai.
Members of the Young Marines retire the colors at the close of the ceremony.
Photo by Mark Harrison
Under a gray sky, those solemn hundreds gathered among waving flags to pay honor to the thousands upon thousands of American citizens who have given their lives in defense of the country.
"We gather to honor the fallen heroes who never came home to their families and friends," said guest speaker Chief Master Sgt. Robert Tappana, a 1978 Kenai Central High School graduate who now serves as command chief master sergeant for the 3rd Wing Pacific Air Force at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage.
"(We gather for those who) for generations have helped preserve the precious gift of freedom."
Former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles also spoke at the ceremony.
"On this day, we stand together as one people, one nation united in remembering the veterans who sacrificed their life for us," Knowles said. "We celebrate the veterans who lost their lives, who were wounded in battle and who returned whole."
Among those wounded was former Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia, who was in Kenai this week on his third trip to Alaska.
"The first time I came was (in 1968) on a hospital ship," said Cleland, who was severely wounded in the Vietnam War. "It was the first time I touched ground on my home country after Vietnam."
Cleland, who went on to work to support veterans returning from Vietnam and later became a U.S. senator, said war that world that Carrico and so many others have seen of late changed him.
"I came back different, but I came back," he said. "I'm on special assignment now to live every day to the fullest. Every day after Vietnam is an extra credit day."
Cleland said he hopes veterans will continue to receive the remembrance they so deserve.
"All we want is to be remembered, not as victims of history, but as veterans," he said, touting the sanctity of Memorial Day and praising the community turnout for the ceremony.
"I'm honored to be in a community, a state, a nation, that does not slight God nor the soldier."
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