Hundreds of Alaskans took time to remember, pray for and honor American soldiers and their surviving family members on Memorial Day.
Large crowds in Anchorage and the Mat-Su heard from dignitaries and service men and women. There were 21-gun salutes, somber prayers, rousing speeches and patriotic music as Alaskans expressed gratitude for their fallen and the Gold Star Families who still bear the loss.
In Anchorage, hundreds turned out at the Veterans Memorial on Delaney Park Strip to hear from local dignitaries and service members on a brilliant sunny morning.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Sen. Dan Sullivan were on hand, as were other civic leaders and U.S. Army Major General Peter Andrysiak, who commands the U.S. Army forces at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
“One of the incredible, great things about our state is that it is so patriotic,” Sen. Dan Sullivan told the Anchorage crowd. “We have more veterans per capita than any state in the country, and I think our support for the military is stronger than any state in the country.”
“This state has sacrificed a lot,” Sullivan continued. “Just look at the granite walls behind me and the names on that.”
He highlighted the 2006 sacrifice of the JBER-based 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division. This unit lost 53 men in combat.
“That demonstrates to me that we know sacrifice, and it might be the reason we are so patriotic,” Sullivan added.
“The freedoms our military has so valiantly defended are not a given,” he continued. “This freedom has come at great cost and those who have lost loved ones will tell you that the pain is almost too much to bear and never goes away. But it is not in vain.”
Sullivan then took issue with those who seem to go out of their way to criticize and degrade the nation’s armed forces.
“I’m not saying our military is perfect. No institution is perfect,” he said. “But here’s fact to remember … The U.S. military has done more to liberate mankind from tyranny and oppression than any other force in human history. Think about it. From the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and yes Afghanistan – hundreds of millions of people around the world have been liberated from tyranny and oppression because of our military.”
Following Sullivan’s remarks, Gen. Andrysiak stepped to the podium to give a heart-felt speech about the ultimate sacrifice of so many soldiers. He urged Americans to take time to thank veterans and Gold Star Families who still mourn the loss of their beloved.
Gen. Andrysiak has served 31 years – 21 of those in a time of war.
“We’ve experience the worst of what comes with war and in our minds eye we can still see things that we hope to forget,” he said. “We’ve lost close personal friends and too many soldiers.”
He noted that he has attended far too many memorial services with flag-draped coffins.
“And we’ve met the bereaved families of the fallen, feeling helpless when absent the right words to ease their pain,” Gen. Andrysiak added. “We also feel the failure of not being able to bring them all home.”
He recounted an extremely difficult moment.
“I presented the flag at a funeral to parents, who as I knelt to present them the flag, grabbed me, wrapped their arms around me, because they knew how hard it was for me,” he said.
The general noted that countless families have had their hopes and dreams shattered upon being informed that their loved one has died in battle.
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“I share this not to dampen your spirits on this special weekend but to amplify it’s significance and also to help others understand why we should be so very grateful to those brave few who were wiling to give all,” he said.
A massive Mat-Su crowd gathered at the Wasilla Wall of Honor later in the day. Local mayors, Sen. Sullivan and Rep. Don Young were on hand.
Young spoke of the WWII soldiers who lost their lives on the D-Day landing at Normandy.
“On that beach, there was 6,000 gallons of blood – 6,000 gallons of blood on that beach in one day,” he said. “They were young people trying to keep us free – to make sure our nation was strong in getting rid of the Nazis. God rest their souls.”
He then took a moment to reflect on the current state of American politics and culture.
“As I look around today, and watch some things happening in our society, I hope is wasn’t for naught,” he said. “We are in an era of time when division is more popular than love.”
Young lamented current attempts to infuse the military with woke identity politics.
“This woke time drives me nuts,” he said to a rousing applause. “I certainly don’t want it to get into our military.”
“That’s not the military I know,” Young concluded. “We’re there to defend this country, keep people free and give people opportunity in this great nation of ours.”