Peninsula honors its veterans

Posted: Friday, November 12, 2010

Jim Walters said he always gets emotional during the Veterans Day event. The ceremony was the same as is held every year at the Soldotna Sports Center -- at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month. And Thursday's ceremony was no different for Walters and many others.

Not too many eyes were dry in the Soldotna conference room during the 90-minute ceremony to honor and remember all who have served in the U.S. military.

"I had friends that didn't make it," said the Sterling resident, who served in the U.S. Army from 1975 to 1977. "When you join the service you're given a blank check and you follow orders and everybody is expendable."

Hosted by the Soldotna VFW post, the event included prayers, stories, presentations and memorials, all in the spirit of celebrating veterans.

"To all veterans everywhere, welcome home; it's been a long journey," said Robert Peterson, after reciting a poem, "The Wall" about the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Paul Stevenson, the VFW commander and master of ceremonies for the event, gave an address about the importance of supporting veterans, especially now while our own country is still at war.

"If it wasn't for them the barbarians of the world would take over," he said. Stevenson said it's much easier to call for peace than to fight against powers like Nazism and terrorism.

Veterans fought and fight for liberty and American ideals, he said, and it's especially important to make sure they are taken care of.

"Our sense of gratitude cannot sleep. We must be willing to pick them up when they are down," Stevenson said. "We must support the men and women fighting today. To do anything less would diminish our standing as the greatest nation on earth."

Nick Nelson of the Military Order of the Purple Heart had a similar message, especially about the importance of funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

He said that for the first time in history the president signed into law a bill for the Veterans Affairs budget.

Imparting a story about how medical advances have been able to save soldiers who would have never had a chance in the past, Nelson said, the defense budget is not just for bullets, but also for good health care tools.

"If we can take care of each other in war we need to take care of each other in peace, too," Nelson said.

Featured guest speaker Rich Mathieson, National Guard staff sergeant and recruiter for the Alaska Army National Guard, talked about the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day and recited a poem about honoring veterans because they answered the call.

And that was something Dave Caswell did when he presented "Honor and Remember" flags to people in the community who lost family during military service. Caswell heads up Alaska's Honor and Remember campaign, which strives to make the flag a symbol of recognition and present them to fallen soldiers' families.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey received a flag, and he also called for the community to support serving military by writing cards or sending goodies overseas.

He's asking for residents to get items together over the next month for mailing and also asking for additional names of soldiers to send packages to.

Carey asked residents to "renew our efforts to serve those who are serving."

"They so appreciate anything they get overseas," he said.

In the end, the laying of the wreaths by Kenai and Soldotna mayors, rifle salute and playing of taps was all that was left that could be said, but the power of those actions needed no words.

"If ye break faith with us who die/We shall not sleep, though poppies grow/In Flanders fields," said VFW chaplain and event organizer Herb Stettler, reading the famous poem "In Flander's Fields."

By the retirement of colors, Walters had wiped more than a few tears away from his eyes.

"I'm a veteran and I believe it's the right thing to do to honor veterans," he said.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at

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