Juneau honors nation's veterans

Posted: Tuesday, November 12, 2002

More than 300 people gathered at Juneau's National Guard Armory on Tuesday to pay tribute to the country's veterans with prayer, bagpipe music and speeches.

"Those young men and women who preserved our freedom, we preserve them in our hearts," said keynote speaker and Coast Guard Rear Adm. James Underwood.

Many audience members wore shined shoes and crisp National Guard or Coast Guard uniforms. Older men wore pinned American Legion caps. A few small children waved miniature flags.

"The uniforms (military personnel) wear and the flags they carry are symbols of freedom and hope in the world," Underwood said.

The annual memorial event was sponsored by Juneau posts of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. About 300 active duty military personnel are stationed in Juneau and 3,282 veterans live here, according to the most recent census.

Among traditional Veterans Day themes of patriotism and remembrance, speaker Underwood also contemplated the possibility of an impending war with Iraq.

"This coming Friday we should know an answer. That is the deadline for Saddam Hussein," Underwood said. "We need to pray that they let the weapons inspectors in. There is no one in the military that wants to go to war. ... There is also no one in the military that wants our freedoms to be challenged or our people left unprotected."

After Underwood's speech, Eileen Nally of the Southeast Alaska Disabled American Veterans announced the winners of an elementary school essay contest on the theme, "What Veterans Mean to America."

The three winners were Jacob Sanders, a third-grader at Gastineau Elementary; Linsey Tomaro, a fifth-grader at Riverbend Elementary; and Zachary Bursell, a forth-grader at Auke Bay Elementary. The students were given savings bonds and a standing ovation from the crowd.

David Hammonds, a 71-year-old veteran of the Korean War, watched the ceremony from the back of the room, wearing his American Legion cap.

"I always come to Veterans Day ceremonies. Those of us that are here are lucky," he said.

Following the ceremony at the Armory, a smaller, more informal ceremony was held at the new Alaska Native Veterans Memorial at the Sealaska Building. Amid the midday downtown traffic and bustle, older men and their families gathered in a circle, braced against a cold wind. After a prayer, members of the crowd stepped forward, briefly sharing their thoughts on military experience.

"I take pride today in knowing that my beautiful grandson will serve in the military," said one man.

"I lost my cousin in Vietnam," said another.

"I come from a family of eight boys; seven of us served in the armed forces," said a third older man, patting his chest with his hand. "If we go to war in Iraq, I know we are going to lose a lot of young people. That saddens me."

The electric chime atop the Sealaska Building tolled 12 times to signal the noon hour and two veterans placed a wreath on the memorial. Then all the men, many in their 70s, saluted as the mournful strains of "Taps" lilted from a small cassette player across the parking lots and buildings.

Julia O'Malley can be reached at jomalley@juneauempire.com.

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