In celebration of Memorial Day, the American Legion’s Post 20 hosted two ceremonies Monday in partnership with the City of Kenai.
The two ceremonies were largely similar, featuring a procession of the color guard, a firing salute and a series of speeches and prayers by American Legion Post 20 members and other guests.
The first ceremony, held at the Kenai Cemetery, was a more modest affair, as a few dozen gathered between the graves to honor the fallen. The second, at Leif Hansen Memorial Park, was more of a production, with tents and chairs set up, and a series of appearances by government officials and their representatives.
Post 20 Past Cmdr. David Segura, who spoke at both ceremonies, said Memorial Day is held annually on the last Monday of May to honor those who have died in the nation’s wars. He said the day has also come to be a sign of the beginning of summer.
At both ceremonies, Post 20 Chaplain Mike Meredith led a series of prayers and invocations, and also read a poem. In addition, American Legion Post 20 Cmdr. Ron Homan and Segura shared stories of fallen soldiers.
“Americans, we do not forget,” Homan said. “Whether it is an hour ago or a century ago, we remember.”
At the second ceremony, wreaths were put up honoring the fallen, and members of the audience were invited to affix poppies to them to honor those close to their own hearts.
City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel credited fallen soldiers with paying the price of freedom with their lives.
“Each of those lives is a story,” he said. “Hopes, dreams and family relationships that were left unfulfilled so that we may have freedom and liberty.”
Tanya Lautaret spoke on behalf of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who called Memorial Day “an occasion to remember all who laid down their lives so that we could go on with our own, and to reflect on what their service has meant to our nation.”
Elaina Spraker spoke for Sen. Dan Sullivan, who called to mind the families left in the wake of sacrifice.
“The greatest tribute we can offer our fallen heroes is to ensure their legacy lives on,” she said on behalf of Sullivan.
For Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Jill Schaefer spoke. She shared Dunleavy’s proclamation declaring Monday as Memorial Day in Alaska and encouraging residents to remember and honor fallen soldiers.
“All we ask you to do today is remember,” Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche said. “We want you to play golf, we want you to go mow the lawn — these are things that you normally do on Memorial Day. But when you serve up those burgers today, we just want you to say a little blessing and think about those that made our country the way it is today.”
In a speech at the Memorial Park ceremony, Segura told stories of military service members less conventional than the soldiers more commonly associated with the holiday, but who still gave their lives in service. He described a nurse, a pharmacist and a pilot; Lt. Sharon Lane, Pharmacist’s Mate 1st Class Jack Williams and Col. Roy Knight Jr.
Segura also described others who were killed not by enemy fire but by diseases that festered in war zones, saying that their sacrifices were every bit as meaningful, because they could have stayed home and been safe from the infections, but they chose instead to serve.
Segura said Memorial Day is about honoring those who gave their lives in conflict, and remembering those who sacrificed their lives in service of others. He said that dedication to duty could still be seen today both in and out of the military service.
“Every crisis has new heroes,” Segura said. He drew a direct comparison to the sacrifices of soldiers to the sacrifices of first responders and health care providers in major crises like 9/11 and the COVID-19 pandemic — “professionals who were saving others and risking their own lives while doing so.”
“They are men and women who have sacrificed their own lives so others could live. They’re both elite and ordinary,” he said. “They represent the diverse fabric of our country … They look like every one of us.”