Day for vets

Ceremony held to honor soldiers

Posted: Wednesday, November 12, 2003

In military-like tradition, when one veteran collapsed because of cold wintry conditions during the Veterans Day ceremony in Kenai, another immediately took his place.

World War II U.S. Army veteran Clayton Helgeson was participating in Tuesday's memorial at Leif Hansen Memorial Park as a rifleman in the color guard when he fell to the ground in below-freezing temperatures and blowing snow.

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. David Gilbreath -- chief executive officer of Central Peninsula General Hospital -- saw Helge-son fall, rushed to his aid and after Kenai Fire Department medics carried Helgeson to their ambulance, which was parked nearby, Gilbreath took Helgeson's spot in the color guard formation.

Minutes earlier, Gilbreath had been the ceremony's featured speaker.

AMVETS Post 4 Chaplain Martin Hall retrieved Helgeson's rifle, which had fallen in the snow, and stood with it in the guard formation next to Gil-breath for the remainder of the ceremony.

Medics later reported that Helgeson was in the ambulance warming up, and he was OK.

In addition to approximately 40 members of Kenai Peninsula veterans organizations participating in the Veterans Day tribute, about 130 peninsula residents braved the cold blast of winter in a show of support for men and women who have served in America's military and for those currently serving.

"We want to honor the veterans," said Carol and John Broussard of Nikiski, who attended the ceremony with four of their children -- Beau, 16, Margaret, 14, Kendra, 7, and Jillian, 5.

The Broussards also have a son and daughter-in-law currently serving in the U.S. Air Force in Mountain Home, Idaho, and have a son who will be entering the military in January.

"We try to come as often as we can," Carol Broussard said.

Also honoring veterans were J. and Jill Johnson of Soldotna.

"I'm a veteran, and we believe in trying to show respect for the people who risk their lives for us," J. Johnson said. He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1961 to 1965, including some time in Vietnam.

"I come every year," said Emily Rodland of Kenai.

Rodland said she attends the Veterans Day ceremonies to show support of veterans.

"I've always had family in the military. I have a niece in the Navy on an aircraft carrier now," she said.

Joy and Walter Ward of Kenai also came to observe the day. Walter served in the Army between 1950 and 1952, spending seven months as an infantry platoon sergeant in Korea.

"We come every year. It's not as cold (today) as it is sometimes," Joy Ward said.

Earl Hibpshman, another Army veteran, said he also comes to the ceremony every year. Hibpshman, who said he lives seven miles north of Kenai, served in the Philippines and in Japan between 1945 and 1946.

"I come as a gesture of pride," Hibpshman said.

During his keynote speech, Gilbreath called on people in the audience to continue showing their support for men and women in the military.

"Send letters to our troops. Recognize the troops like (Sol-dotna) Mayor Dave Carey did when he honored sailor Jeremy Shedd at the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce lunch," Gilbreath said.

Gilbreath related a story of a military captain, a colonel and an old veteran.

"The veteran looked old and bent over, as the captain came walking by.

"Approaching from the other direction was a full colonel.

"The captain readied her salute and said, 'Good morning, sir.'

"Thinking the greeting was for him, the old veteran straightened up, proudly came to attention and returned the salute.

"Realizing what had just taken place, the colonel silently returned the captain's salute and continued on his way.

"Even a small amount of recognition goes a long way," Gilbreath said.

"Take time today to say thanks to our veterans."

As part of Tuesday's patriotic tribute, sixth-grade Kenai Middle School student Mike Morin read a poem he wrote about the American flag, calling to mind past wars in which the country was engaged and how America came through troubled times.

Following the reading, four fighter jets from the 3rd Air Wing out of Elmendorf Air Force Base flew over in a missing-man formation, and riflers from AMVETS Post 4 in Soldotna, American Legion Post No. 20 in Kenai, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 10046 in Soldotna and the Young Marines fired a salute.

Master of ceremonies Jim Walters, 2nd vice commander of the AMVETS post, invited people from the audience to put artificial poppies on wreaths placed in honor of fallen veterans and invited all to open house receptions at the three veterans posts.

As people paraded past the wreaths, memorial addresses were made by dignitaries from the veterans organizations, including the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Military Order of the Purple Heart, AMVETS, VFW and the Vet Center, represented by Dave Caswell.

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