Honoring the last full measure of devotion

Juneau residents remembered those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country during multiple Memorial Day observances on Monday, May 28.

The Auke Bay American Legion Post 25 hosted the Mendenhall Valley Memorial Day observance at Alaska Memorial Park Cemetery.

Coast Guard Commander David Godfrey said 425 American service men and women have died since Memorial Day 2011.

“So it is right that we are hear to remember those 425 who died since last year, those 6,400 who have died since 911, and those thousands who have died in previous years and previous wars. And memorialize those 425 and hopefully there will be fewer each year,” Godfrey told the crowd of veterans, family and friends gathered at the cemetery.

Coast Guard Commander David Godfrey

Coast Guard Commander David Godfrey is head of the electronics support systems unit, which maintains all command-control communication technology in Alaska. Photo by Rosemarie Alexander.

At the same time, services were also underway at Evergreen Cemetery downtown, organized by Veterans of Foreign Wars Taku Post 5559.

Coast Guard Commander Dennis Evans remembered the burial of Petty Officer Nathan Bruckenthal at Arlington National Cemetery in May of 2004. Bruckenthal was the first Coast Guard combat casualty of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the branch’s first since Vietnam.

“Today we all reflect on the men and women we have known like Nate Bruckenthal,” Coast Guard Commander Dennis Evans told the crowd.

“It’s become popular saying Memorial day is not about a day off from work or beaches or car races or picnics or blockbuster movies or how we start our summers. I’m not sure I entirely agree with that sentiment. Memorial Day is, at least in part, about all of those things. But it’s about those things because of the sacrifices of our heroes. They fought and died so we could continue to enjoy all that. The freedoms we so often take for granted are not free and that is what we must remember,” Evans said.

The downtown observance also included visiting members of the Sperl family at the grave of Army Corporal Donald Walter Sperl, who was killed in Vietnam in May 1968. The joint University of Alaska Southeast Recreation and Alaska Army National Guard Readiness Center is named for Sperl and Charles Gamble Jr., also killed in Vietnam.

Sperl family

Members of Donald Sperl's extended family pose in front of his headstone during Memorial Day observances. Photo by Matt Miller.

Observances also were held at the Southeast Alaska Native Veterans Memorial Park, adjacent to the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall.

Vietnam veteran Bill Thomas, now a state representative from Haines, attended the ceremony.

“Every time that I see someone that I know that was in Vietnam, I remember Vietnam. I remember things I don’t like to remember, my body remembers. I want to forget, but it doesn’t happen that way,” Thomas said. “It’s a fear of dreaming about being back in Vietnam, being under combat, being under fire.”

Thomas said it’s only been eight years since he had one of those dreams.

Wreaths were placed by various veterans groups at all three observances yesterday.

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