Leora Kenick waves U.S. flags as the Memorial Day parade arrived the Belmont Point Cemetery.

Nome honors the fallen on Memorial Day

With temperatures hanging in the low 30s, Nomeites lined up in front of the Post Office on Front Street to begin the Memorial Day Parade at 11 a.m. on May 27.
The police car’s lights twirled, ready to lead the way as a group of veterans took formation behind the flagbearers. The four flags —USA, Alaska, POW/MIA, and VFW— were flapping in a stiff west wind as the procession began with a stern Detail, atten hut! command.
Residents lined the street waving flags and offered cheers. After winding through town, the parade came to a halt in the cemetery where a lectern had been set up on a stage for the ceremony beneath a massive U.S. flag hanging from the extended ladder of a fire engine.
In the distance, the flags of the cemetery were at half-staff.

Girl Scout Troops 352 and 354 lined up in front of the stage and faced the crowd. The ceremony’s emcee and auxiliary president of Nome’s VFW Post #9569, Peggy Darling, welcomed everyone and introduced the singer of the National Anthem, Jackie Reader, whose voice soared above the biting wind. Next, the Girl Scouts led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, first in Iñupiaq and then in English.

Nome’s VFW Chaplain Aaron Iworrigan of Wales offered a prayer that included Psalm 23.

Nome’s Mayor John Handeland took the opportunity during his speech to address the contradictory nature of saying Happy Memorial Day, given the solemnity of the holiday. Yet he pursued an optimistic take on it, “But it’s happy because we have freedom,” he said. Mayor Handeland went on to read Governor Dunleavy’s Memorial Day Proclamation, which included the phrase that echoed the philosophy of the day, “We must remind ourselves of the true cost of freedom.”

Off, a bit in the distance, U.S. Navy Veteran, Andrew Miller Jr., watched the event from his truck. Miller served two tours in the Vietnam War in the Seabees, a construction battalion.

He said that he, along with other Nomeites at the time, decided to join instead of waiting to be drafted, so they could specifically join the Seabees since, “we all knew how to build already.” Even though their mission was often construction, they still were fully trained and combat ready. Miller recollected they often faced rocket fire while serving in Vietnam.

The idea of addressing the contradictory nature of saying Happy Memorial Day was in the air. When U.S. Air Force veteran Justin Polayes took the stage next, he said that the mayor had already used his opening bit. Polayes instead pivoted the crowd to consider how crucial the day is, especially in such politically divided times, for its being “apolitical and unifying.” The four flag bearers had their poles angled perfectly into the wind as Polayes emphasized the day’s role in shaping society, the importance of teaching its lesson of honor to the youth. He rounded-off his speech in spectacular military fashion by calling upon the crowd to join him in “Memorial push-ups”, of which many able-bodied people in attendance then executed fourteen of, on the ground before the stage, in almost unison.

Once the commemorative exercise ended, Nicholas Reader used his brass skills to perform an emotive version of Taps.

Peggy Darling explained that the parade would then move down to the Snake River to specifically honor servicemen who were involved in waterborne operations. The event would culminate in a Bell UH-1 Iroquois, colloquially known as “Hueys”, dropping a wreath in the water. Almost on cue, one could hear the batabatabata beating of the chopper in the distance. As it flew over, Darling whispered, “The sound of freedom,” into the microphone.

Once the crowd congregated along the Snake River beside a flowered cross, VFW Chaplain Aaron Iworrigan offered another prayer. Then Reader gave another rendition of Taps and at its conclusion the parade detail did an about-face towards the river.
Darling gave a fascinating history of the 1965 Bering Air Huey used in the ceremony, flown by Russell Rowe. The chopper and its sole passenger, Marine Veteran Henry Brosnaham, both served in Vietnam. As the helicopter approached the river it spread mesmerizing ripples across the water, inducing an effect that encouraged the pondering of time, generations, and all the men and women that have come before us. Brosnaham saluted the crowd before dispensing the wreath into the disturbed waters below.

Darling ended the heartfelt ceremony, “We wish all our veterans a peaceful day.”


The Nome Nugget

PO Box 610
Nome, Alaska 99762

Phone: (907) 443-5235
Fax: (907) 443-5112


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