Amid the barbecues, picnics, annual sales and day off work, Juneau observed Memorial Day at three services designed to honor those who died in the service of their country.
Flags hung at half-staff and promptly at 11 a.m. the commemorations began at Alaskan Memorial Park in the Mendenhall Valley and Evergreen Cemetery in downtown Juneau.
U.S. Coast Guard 17th District Command Center Supervisor, James Armstrong, lamented the way Memorial Day has changed over the years.
“Happy Memorial Day, someone said to me the other day,” he said, noting the word memorial is defined as something designed to preserve the memory of a person or event.
“Nowhere does the definition include the words party or sale. Memorial Day is not a happy occasion; it is not to be celebrated. It is and should be an event to be reflected upon and observed. It is not at all about the beginning of summer, unofficial or otherwise. It is most certainly not a time for merchants to exploit as an excuse for a sale,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong blamed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act for degrading the true meaning of Memorial Day. Since the act took effect in 1971, Memorial Day has always been on the last Monday of May, though the original date of May 30th was set in 1868.
American Legion Auke Bay Post 25 hosted the Mendenhall Valley observance, where poems were read, prayers were given, flower wreaths were hung and taps were played. Families gathered to visit the graves of their loved ones and friends; many of the graves were marked with small American flags and fresh flowers.
Evergreen Cemetery observance
The scene was similar at Evergreen Cemetery in downtown Juneau, where Taku Post 5559 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars held the annual commemoration.
Coast Guard Cmdr. Patrick M. Hilbert said he never really understood the importance of Memorial Day until he was stationed in the Netherlands. There he was approached by multiple generations of Dutch residents who still remembered and valued U.S. service members’ efforts during World War II.
Hilbert recalled the words on the Margraten, Netherlands memorial for missing service members at the American Cemetery:
‘Each for his own memorial earn praise that will never die and with it the grandest of all sepulchers. Not that in which his mortal bones are laid, but a home in the minds of men.'”
“With that sentiment in mind, today we mark the sacrifices of those that have passed over the bar in service of our nation,” Hilbert said. “We take stock of what we have to be thankful for. And most of all, we remember and honor those that we have to thank for the opportunities and prosperity we continue to enjoy today.”
Alaska Native Memorial Day commemoration
Shortly after the Alaskan Memorial Park and Evergreen Cemetery events, another ceremony commemorating Southeast Alaska Native military members was held at the park adjacent to Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall.
As the names were read aloud, American flags were placed at the stones inscribed with the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian words for warrior and courage.