Remembering sacrifices and lamenting war

Soboleff: 'It's a sad story in 2009 that war is still in the world'

Posted: Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Veterans and friends of the fallen offered their memories Monday in Memorial Day observances around Juneau, recounting war time heroics on foreign soil to playing high school basketball against a young man bound for Vietnam.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

"Sacrifice, ladies and gentlemen, is meaningless without remembrance," said Tim Armstrong, past commander of Juneau's local Veterans of Foreign Wars post during an observance it put on at Evergreen Cemetery that about 125 people attended.

Armstrong led the ceremony and called on everyone to pay their respects, and think about Memorial Day as more than just "a day off work, a day to head to picnic grounds, a day to enjoy the weather."

Memorial Day is a federal holiday conceived to recognize men and women that have died in military service. Its origins go back to the Civil War.

Armstrong said he used to think the phrase "freedom isn't free" was trite, but knows better now.

The Southeast Alaska Native Veterans held an observation in front of the group's Warrior Pole memorial to veterans on the recently renamed Warrior Street, formerly a stretch of Whittier Street, adjacent to ANB Hall.

Over lunch, state Rep. Bill Thomas of Haines spoke to those attending the Native veterans event about an effort that got a building on the University of Alaska Southeast campus renamed for Army Cpl. Donald Walter Sperl and Army Spc. Charles F. Gamble Jr. They died in Vietnam and Juneau's most recent wartime military deaths. Thomas had played basketball against Sperl.

Retired Alaska National Guard Lt. Col. Walter Soboleff was the featured speaker at the event. Soboleff, the Tlingit scholar and Native leader who turned 100 in November, recalled a young field artillery soldier coming home from World War I in 1918, a soldier who was told he had fought in the world's last war, the supposed war to end all wars.

"But we've had more wars. ... New York was attacked. ... Now, it's a sad story in 2009 that war is still in the world," Soboleff said.

He sought support for two causes to combat war. Support of American foreign aid - "I never liked it, but I changed my mind. The United States is the Santa Claus of the world. ... It's a symbol of brotherhood and sisterhood." And secondly, use the church, which he framed as an expression of American democracy's first amendment right to freedom of religion, for strength and solace.

"Let the church save us," he said.

• Contact reporter Jeremy Hsieh at 523-2258 or e-mail

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