Prayers and push-ups: Nome celebrates Memorial Day
By Peter Loewi
Even the sun came out on Memorial Day as a large crowd walked, biked and drove through Nome on a glorious Monday to commemorate those who lost their lives serving in the armed forces. Close to 100 people made their way from the post office on Front St. to Belmont Cemetery, carrying small flags, small children, and sometimes both.
At the cemetery, there was a short program. Chaplain Aaron Iworrigan led a prayer, thanking Nome and the villages across the region on behalf of the nation and veterans. Nome’s Girl Scouts recited the Pledge of Allegiance, first in Inupiaq and then in English. Jackie Reader sang the National Anthem. Mayor John Handeland gave a proclamation for the observance of Memorial Day, which he called both a reverent day as well as a day of celebration.
The VFW’s Peggy Darling gave thanks to the many organizations that made the parade possible, and the crowd, larger than in past years, for marching. “It shows you understand the meaning of being here,” she said.
Justin Bolayes, a retired Tech Sergeant from the U.S. Air Force, spoke next. “Today is when Americans come together,” he said, openly sharing how “impossible” it is to compartmentalize the pain that comes from losing friends. He said that 6,967 members of the U.S. armed services have died in combat since 9/11, and he personally knows 48 who were killed in combat or in training. To remember them, he led the crowd in doing push-ups, a military tradition. Around 20 people of all ages joined him.
Nicholas Reader played Taps as Bering Air’s UH-1 Iroquois – better known as a “Huey” – helicopter passed overhead. This particular helicopter flew over 7,000 hours in the Vietnam War, and last served in 1975 for NASA at the Langley Research Center.
The Huey would make another pass after the procession made its way down from the cemetery to Belmont Point. There, it dropped a wreath into the Snake River to commemorate service members lost at sea.
“We do not grieve alone,” Darling said.
Memorial Day, held the last Monday in May, has only been a federal holiday since 1971, but has origins in Decoration Day, dating back to the Civil War.