The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Heidi Zemach
For The LOG 

Military service honored


Heidi Zemach | For The LOG

American Legion Post 5 Commander Claire Sullivan addresses a Memorial Day gathering May 27 at the Seward waterfront.

“Memorial Day is much more than a three-day weekend,” said Claire Sullivan, commander of Seward’s American Legion Post #5. “It’s a reminder of our responsibility and duty to keep the torch of liberty always burning brightly. To keep the Tree of Liberty alive, as Jefferson said, it must be watered with the blood of heroes. We have the sacred obligation to ensure that those heroes did not die in vain, and those heroes who are serving today, are not serving in vain. It is an obligation not to be taken lightly.”

Four young local Cub Scouts in smart uniform shirts, caps and triangular neckerchiefs stood solemnly in a row in front of American Legion Post 5 leaders, chaplains, and U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mustang personnel as they listened to a solemn ceremony beneath eight lowered flags, and within sight of a field of tombstones with white crosses and small American flags.

They saluted in unison, bowed their heads, and held their hands over their hearts within the gathering of about 65 as Kyle Schneider sang The Star Spangled Banner, and as prayers were offered by Vernon Willet, the American Legion Post 5 chaplain and Sharon Dillon, the American Legion Auxiliary chaplain.

The Scouts were the youngest participants in Memorial Day ceremonies that the American Legion held Monday May 27 at the American Legion Cemetery and along the Seward waterfront. Similar scenes were played out across the country.

The first ceremony was briefly drowned out by the blare of the horn announcing the arrival of the Alaska Railroad Corporation’s daily train filled with visiting tourists. Seward also played host throughout the week to numerous servicemen and women and their families as part of the community’s Military Appreciation Week. Their RVs and tents filled the waterfront campgrounds and smoky barbecue smells filled the air.

Sullivan mentioned the legacies of three servicemen in particular. The first was Christopher Eastman, a local son, Seward High School graduate and bomb disposal expert who died in 2010 at age 28 while serving in Afghanistan. He died from an unexploded device and his work was an effort to prevent others from being killed, she said.

Sullivan read a letter penned by another IED explosives technician, Sgt. William Stacey, of Redding, Calif., who was killed at age 23 just last January in Helmand province, Afghanistan, while conducting combat operations. The letter he wrote to family and friends in the event of his death explained that his service and the experiences of his short life to date had been worth it.

She also mentioned Father Emil Kapaun, a Catholic military chaplain and POW who was posthumously awarded the U.S. Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama for his efforts to help fellow POWs to survive in a North Korean prison camp during the early 1950s.

Kapaun was able to persuade fellow prisoners to carry the wounded on their difficult march to the prison camp. While imprisoned there he dug latrines, mediated disputes, gave away his own food and raised morale among the prisoners. He also led prisoners in acts of defiance and smuggled dysentery drugs to a doctor who would treat them. He died in 1951 of dysentery and pneumonia in the camp.

Heidi Zemach | For The LOG

Gun salute at the American Legion Cemetery in Seward in honor of those who died serving in the U.S. Military Forces.

Those who do not serve can’t bring fallen service members back to their grieving families, said Sullivan, but they can try to honor their lives by remembering them and their legacies. They can also help to meet the emotional and physical needs of veterans, their families and assist with the education of their children. The money raised from donations for red poppies each year goes directly to assisting local military families, she said.

The ceremony was concluded with a bugle rendition of taps, performed from beneath a shady tree, followed by a three-gun salute. Then the crowd of 65 dispersed to their vehicles to reconvene soon after at the waterfront memorial for another brief service remembering those lost at sea.

Bruce Bartels, a veteran visiting Seward from Annandale, Minn., who served in Vietnam in the early ‘70s, told Sullivan that wherever he happens to be on Memorial Day, he always finds a service to attend, and hasn’t missed one since 1969. He called Seward’s annual ceremony “very moving and very meaningful.”


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